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The Unraveling of 
the American Dream 

William Ophuls 

A. Stephen Boyan r Jr. 


Ecology and the Politics 
of Scarcity Revisited 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2010 

Ecology and the Politics 
of Scarcity Revisited 

The Unraveling of the American Dream 

William Ophuls 

A. Stephen Boyan,Jr. 

Foreword by Thomas E. Lovejoy 
of The Smithsonian Institution 


W. H. Freeman and Company 
New York 

Library of Congress Catologing-in-Publication Data 

Ophuls, William, 1934- 

Ecology and the politics of scarcity revisited / William Ophuls, 

A. Stephen Boyan, Jr. ; foreword by Thomas E. Lovejoy. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 0-7167-2313-1 

1. Environmental policy 2. Environmental protection. 

I. Boyan, A. Stephen, 1938-, II. Title. 

HC79.E5054 1992 

333. 7’2 — dc20 91-46535 


Copyright © 1992 by W. H. Freeman and Company 

No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic, or 
electronic process, or in the form of a phonographic recording, nor may it be 
stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or otherwise copied for public or 
private use, without written permission from the publisher. 

Printed in the United States of America 

1234567890 VB 998765432 

To the posterity that has never done anything for us 

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their dis- 
position to put moral chains upon their own appetites... Society 
cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be 
placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more 
there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution 
of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their 
passions forego their fetters. 

Edmund Burke 


List of Text Boxes 


Ecological Scarcity and the Limits to Growth 


The Science of Ecology 


Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution, the 
Management of Technology, and an Overview of 
Ecological Scarcity 


The Dilemmas of Scarcity 


The Politics of Scarcity 



The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus 
Economics Equals Politics 

The American Political Economy II: The Non-politics 

of Laissez Faire 


Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


Learning to Live with Scarcity 


Toward a Politics of the Steady State 
Suggested Readings 

Biographical Sketches 

List of Text Boxes 

1 Paradigms and Political Theories 4 

2 Some Consequences of Destroying Tropical Forests 36 

3 Halting Population Growth 46 

4 A Mere Distribution Problem? 49 

5 Mariculture: A Ray of Hope? 54 

6 Agribusiness Biotechnology 58 

7 Ecological Farming 66 

8 Environmental Effects of North Slope Oil Production 85 

0 Can We Meet Our Energy Demands with Coal? 86 

10 Nuclear Safety: The Big Gamble 93 

11 Low-Level Nuclear Wastes 95 

12 Safe Nuclear Power? 99 

13 Home Energy Savings 104 

14 The Multiplex Energy Economy of the Future 120 

1 5 The Thermodynamic Economy 124 

16 Ecological Pollution Control 162 

17 Bulldozer Technology 164 

18 Alternative Technology 176 

10 The Public-Goods Problem 196 

20 Coercion 200 

2 1 Taming Leviathan: Macro-constraints and 

Micro-freedoms 212 

22 The Ecological Contract 214 

23 Determining the Optimal Level of Pollution 223 

24 Marketing Pollution Rights 224 


25 Technology Assessment 226 

26 Assigning Prices to Environmental Goods 228 

27 Bhutan: Developing Sustainably 263 

26 War and Ecocide 272 

2i) Planning Versus Design 288 


The environmental handwriting is clearly on the wall, but bolder and 
more insistent than fourteen years ago when the earlier version of this 
book appeared. Ecological limits mean that it is virtually impossible for all 
of the 5.4 billion people on earth to achieve the high-consumption habits 
of U.S. citizens. Yet it is equally impossible for all of the 5.4 billion to 
embrace the hunter-gatherer life of the remaining pre-agricultural 
societies. Obviously, something must change in the way we collectively 
relate to the environment. 

Will economic growth come to a halt by design or with a horrifying 
crunch because we have blithely allowed ourselves to overshoot the 
planet’s carrying capacity? Surely the end is in sight for economic growth 
based on ever increasing consumption of finite natural resources. We have 
polluted the clean air and water, thereby changing the atmospheric 
composition — a certain signal that we have already carried this to the 
planetary scale. 

Perhaps there is an answer in the biological world we so long tended to 
dismiss and disdain. Individual organisms have two distinct forms of growth. 
In one the organism simply grows larger and of necessity consumes more 
resources. In the other, organisms do not grow in size but rather in com- 
plexity of structure, and, by analogy, behavior. Perhaps growth in complexity 
can serve as a model for an ecologically sustainable society. 

There is widespread longing for an escape from the environmental 
squeeze cage through some ingenious technological fix. Environmen- 
talists find that solution suspect because it is close to impossible for any 
single fix to work, and because most suggestions are of such cosmic scale 
that they are as likely to create other environmental problems as to solve 
the ones at hand. It is nonetheless important not to dismiss cavalierly 
what technology can do to help. Ever} technological advance in efficient 
use and conservation of natural resources will make it easier to achieve 
the transition to a society in balance with its environment. 

Even so, it would be foolish to believe that advances in efficiency and 
conservation and any other marvelous surprises ecotechnology may have 
in store will in themselves solve the problem. Society faces not only the 
current situation of human numbers and resource consumption but also 



frightening rates of increase. A current annual addition of 100 million 
people leads to projections of human population many billions larger 
than present. To sustain such population growth with the same set of 
resources seems beyond the reach of technological fixes, especially while 
society is undermining the environmental stability of the planet through 
myriad activities, the most monstrous of which is alteration of atmos- 
pheric composition and climatic stability. 

The serious question this book explores is whether our institutions, 
societal values, and economic and political assumptions are up to the 
adjustment. Or are we without the structures and viewpoints which will 
allow us to turn away from our dangerous inclination to bicker, dicker, 
and fritter? Although few would wager that human society currently has 
the values and structures necessary for survival, the simple point is that 
there is no choice, and that we must bend our astonishing intellectual 
capacity toward creating the conditions for change. 

Not many readers, I expect, will agree with every analysis this book 
provides or with its every insight into the workings and assumptions (oft 
unstated) of human societies and how they relate to the environmental 
challenge. Nonetheless, the book presents exactly the kind of thinking that 
must take place if we are to do more than stumble around in an ecopolitical 
darkness. One hears, at least occasionally, the question of whether democracy 
is up to the environmental challenge. That is the question explored here, and 
the answer is positive but guarded, because a democracy of complacency that 
sees only immediate horizons will most certainly fail. How ironic it would 
be for democracy, now more widespread than ever in history, to undermine 
itself by failing to face its greatest challenge. 

Over the centuries Thomas Malthus has been criticized each time 
society has been able by one means or another to postpone a final 
reckoning. What we really must recognize is that Malthus was only wrong 
about the date. How much better it is to accommodate to an inevitable 
reality in advance rather than adjust painfully in retrospect. How much 
more sensible to learn how best to use and enjoy newly discovered ways 
to work within our resource capacities, rather than to grasp in despera- 
tion for room to maneuver after we have pushed ourselves to the 
ecological limits, or indeed beyond. This book challenges us to face the 
environmental music rather than let scarcity force us into an era of 
unwanted political change and social cacophony. 

Thomas E. Lovejoy 
Assistant Secretary for External Affairs 
Smithsonian Institution 
January 1992 


I want to give special thanks to Carol Beyers for her valuable research 
assistance in the preparation of this manuscript. I also wish to thank Sandy 
Parker, of the UMBC Geography Department, Margaret McKeon, of the 
Duke University Political Science Department, for their valuable com- 
ments on the text and Paul Hertz, Chairman of the Biology Department 
at Barnard College, for his contributions to Chapter 1. Thanks also go to 
Justin Boyan, who helped me with mathematical formulas needed to 
prepare tables and calculations, as well as to Kitty Boyan, who gave me 
much appreciated support as I worked on the manuscript. 

A. Stephen Boyan, Jr. 

January 1992 



About a century' and a half ago, Victor Hugo described the ethical 
thought of his day and predicted what would one day become the most 
challenging task of ethics: 

In the relations of humans with the animals, with the flowers, with the 
objects of creation, there is a whole great ethic scarcely seen as yet, but 
which will eventually break through into the light and be the corollary 
and the complement to human ethics. . . . Doubtless it was first necessary 
to civilize man in relation to his fellow men. With this one must begin and 
the various lawmakers of the human spirit have been right to neglect 
every other care for this one. That task is already much advanced and 
makes progress daily. But it is also necessary to civilize humans in relation 
to nature. There, everything remains to be done ( Eti Voyage, Alpes et 
Pyrenees, quoted in Borrelli 1989, p. 39). 

I wanted to revise Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity because, as the text 
will make plain, we are continuing to degrade our environment, and we 
seem unable to stop doing so. “We seem to confront an array of tragic 
choices: business-as-usual is becoming impossible and intolerable, yet all 
the immediately available political alternatives appear unworkable, un- 
palatable, or downright repugnant.” The prospect of ecological scarcity 
thus forces us to consider our ethics. If we are to “civilize humans in 
relation to nature” we need to think about the larger issues, for “we do 
not simply live in a world of problems but in a highly problematical 
world, an inherently anti-ecological society. This anti-ecological world will 
not be healed by acts of [mere] statesmanship or passage of piecemeal 
legislation. It is a world that is direly in need of far-reaching structural 
change” (Bookchin 1990, p. 83). 

The prospect of ecological scarcity equally obliges us to consider the 
eternal questions of political philosophy. Dr. Ophuls educated a genera- 
tion of readers in the connection between ecological scarcity and the 
questions of political philosophy. He said that “the value of this book lies 
in the nature and quality of the questions it raises, for I am convinced that 
they will be central for our era” and “until we have these questions 
clearly in mind, the . . . answers [to them and our predicament] are bound 



to elude us.” I appreciate Dr. Ophuls’s permitting me to update his book 
and to raise these questions to a new generation of readers. For despite 
the publication of a great deal of environmental literature, two decades of 
environmental activism, and billions of dollars spent on environmental 
programs, the “bottom line” is that the condition of the environment 
continues to worsen. Clearly we need to do more than what we’ve been 
doing. It may be that the future won’t take the form that Chapter 8 
suggests, but without some fundamental changes, the planet will someday 
not be a hospitable place for human habitation. 

Yet although most environmental indicators are worsening, I revised 
this book not because I despair, but because I care for the future. It is 
difficult for me to be optimistic, but it is also easy to overlook the bits of 
good news that are emerging everywhere. Discouraging as it is that the 
human population is still increasing prodigiously worldwide, the good 
news is that eight East Asian and Latin American countries reduced their 
fertility rates by more than 50% between 1960 and 1987. People even in 
poor countries are capable of changing their attitudes toward reproduc- 
tion and their reproductive behavior. On another front, even though 
modern agricultural practices are still spreading throughout the world, 
the good news is that some farmers in almost every region are returning 
to organic or IPM methods and to the use of biological pest controls — 
and making as much money as they did before. Though the world 
continues to use ever more energy, the good news (as we will see in 
Chapter 2) is that some utilities, businesses, and individuals are taking 
meaningful steps to increase the efficiency with which they use energy. 
And while the world continues to confuse “growth” with happiness and 
measures growth by gross national product, the good news is that Ger- 
many, France, and Norway, among other countries, are beginning to 
figure natural resource depletion into their economic analyses. 

Other good news is that a change in paradigm is occurring in 
industrial countries. As John McRuer describes it, the conventional 

is rooted in neoclassical economics. Its vision of earthly paradise is a 
cultured world of urban luxury, where both recreation and work are 
high-tech and orderly, and where nature is a manicured garden. Its 
nightmare is about losing control — fumbling its development strategy and 
waking to the cold chill of brown-out, angry customers, and missed 
investment dollars. In a world driven by competition, the Convention, 
whose ethic is rational humanism, is the paradigm of power in western 
nations. It [still] drives politics, business, government, the media, and, to 
some extent, religion. 



Its opponents are the “Greens.” Their nirvana is a bucolic world of gentle, 
self-sufficient communities, which use a simple but adequate technology 
to coexist affectionately with nature. Their nightmare is about tech- 
nology’s power to destroy their wild places — of waking to a world where 
suburbs desecrate the meadows, where forests have turned to moonscapes, 
where the song birds are gone, and where the water is befouled with 
cancerous substances. Their world works by ethics, by cooperation, by 

McRuer observes that although the Greens may be “wistful, imprac- 
tical, and in some ways hypocritical” (they may use fuel-efficient cars but 
jet to the winter sunshine), they are the force behind a “doomsday 
debate” about the planet s future. The Conventions assume that “human 
skill can prevail against all — that society can grow forever in wealth and 
wisdom, and thus in bliss.” The Greens “invoke conservation laws of 
nature, warn that humans are not gods” but are entangled in the fate of 
natural systems (McRuer 1990, p. 5). 

What is interesting is that even as the debate continues and the 
condition of the planet worsens, the Conventions themselves are begin- 
ning to support the concept of “sustainable development.” Advocates of 
sustainable development — for example, the World Resources Institute s 
Global Possible Conference (1984) — still have high hopes for growth and 
technological solutions (hopes that, as we shall see, are at least in some 
respects a delusion) but also recognize that a stable birthrate, a highly 
efficient use of energy with a shift to renewables, and a reliance on 
natures income rather than its capital (quoted in Corson, 1990, p. 322) 
(which Greens have traditionally identified as key aspects of a “steady 
state”) are essential. 

The fundamentals of “sustainable development” do not yet enter 
into the everyday decisions of most corporations, but again, here and 
there, they are beginning to do so. For example, the chemical industry has 
quietly asked for the help and cooperation of environmental scientists in 
determining how best to reduce its toxic air emissions. We will see how 
some utility executives and state utility regulators are recognizing the 
wisdom of efficiency measures and a shift toward renewables. The 3M 
Corporation has hired an environmental vice-president; in 12 years the 
company has reduced its waste generation by over 50 percent and is still 
coming up with new ways to reduce pollution on- and off-site. En- 
couragingly, it has saved money in the process. The McDonald’s Corpora- 
tion is radically shifting the way it serves food, substituting recycled and 
recyclable materials for new styrofoam containers. The Borden chemical 


company has altered its procedures to reduce the organic chemicals in its 
waste water by 93%. It too has saved money in the process. 

The concept of sustainable development is even beginning to take 
root in the developing world. And this despite the fact that industrial 
countries are selling developing countries environmentally harmful pro- 
ducts, such as pesticides, and transferring their own environmental costs 
to those developing nations by relocating industry there to avoid being 
subject to their own country’s pollution controls. The Environmental 
Policy Institute and the National Wildlife Federation have published a 
booklet on environmentally responsible projects in the developing world. 
They include windbreak planting, watershed restoration, integrated pest 
management, environmental reserves, habitat protection, energy efficien- 
cy and conservation, fish cultures, agro forestry — even family planning in 
Zimbabwe. In Thailand, just one man launched a private nonprofit 
corporation whose efforts resulted in 70% of the population practicing 
birth control and led to a reduction of the birth rate in that country from 
3.2% to 1.6% in just 15 years! A change in thinking takes time to be 
translated into concrete action. Sometimes that action is tentative; some- 
times outside pressure or events must push it forward; sometimes one 
energetic individual with a vision can do so. But when thought gets 
translated into the first action, each step makes the next step easier and 
reinforces the previous shift in perspective. 

Even more encouraging is the change in perspective among young 
people. In schools across the United States, environmental education 
courses are springing up. Among the objectives of these courses is to 
teach youngsters such concepts as the “web of life,” to show them that 
“you can’t do just one thing,” and to involve them personally in planting, 
recycling, and cleaning up debris in their communities. The fact that 
these courses are being taught from elementary schools “on up” itself 
suggests changing attitudes among today’s educational elites. Moreover, 
those who teach these courses are often surprised at how readily children 
accept ecological concepts — how, indeed, children will encourage their 
parents to launch recycling programs or will educate their parents about 
other environmental issues. One observer has suggested that this should 
come as no surprise at all. Just as today’s 40- and 50-year-olds grew up 
with a vague fear of the bomb and worried at times that their elders 
would blow up the world, he suggests that 10-year-olds today are vaguely 
fearful of environmental deterioration and worry that their elders are 
polluting the world (Montagna 1991). If this is so, and these children are 
adopting a change in paradigm, suggestions dismissed today as politically 
unrealistic will, in some modified form, become tomorrow’s political 
imperatives. Environmental impact will no longer be the nuisance of 



generating required paperwork but will be an important underpinning 
for political decisions. 

The point of these examples is not to kindle a naive faith that the 
future will take care of itself or that human skill in some way will solve 
all. On the contrary, the text makes it clear that some ecological over- 
shoot is already predetermined — that human suffering is already bound 
to increase because of our propensity to do too little, too late. Rather, the 
point of these examples is to demonstrate that we are slowly learning that 
all our behavior has consequences. In civilizing ourselves in our relations 
to our fellow beings, we learned that when we treat people badly, it may 
seem as though we get away with it, but in the long run, people will “get 
us back." Now we are learning that when we treat nature badly, it may 
seem as though we get away with it, but in the long run, nature also will 
get us back. Nature is beginning to get us back. The sun that has given us 
life is now giving us cancer. The rain that has given us drink is now 
bearing poisons. 

The examples I have mentioned show that some are learning an 
ethic for our relationship to nature. In many quarters, the task of civilizing 
humans in relation to nature has begun. Perhaps the only outcome will 
be more rear-guard actions against the planetary deterioration fueled by 
the growth god. But despite the troubles about us, the new ethic is 
making progress daily, and I believe that all is not lost. 

A. Stephen Boyan,Jr. 

January 1992 

Ecology and the Politics 
of Scarcity Revisited 


The reality and gravity of the environmental crisis can no longer be 
denied. What had been a somewhat remote controversy among specialists 
and the committed few over the limits to growth (for example, Meadows 
et al. 1972 vs. Cole et al. 1973) was brought home forcefully to the 
common person during the energy crisis of 1973-1974. We began to 
understand in our bones that, whatever the causes of this particular crisis, 
there might not always be enough material or energy to support even 
current levels of consumption, much less the higher levels many aspire to. 
Again, in the summer of 1988, with drought baking the soil from east to 
west, with 100° heat in cities across the country, and with coastal beaches 
befouled by garbage, raw sewage, and medical wastes, Americans again had 
a sense of foreboding about what we re doing to our planet. No one, for 
example, seriously asserts any longer that ecological concern is a mere fad, 
which after a brief pirouette in the media limelight will cede its place to 
the newest crisis. Nor are there many who still maintain that those 
concerned with environmental issues are perpetrating a political hoax 
designed to siphon money and public support away from disadvantaged 
minority interests. Whatever the excesses of some who have espoused the 
cause of environmentalism, the crisis is real, and it challenges our institu- 
tions and values in a most profound way — more profoundly even than 
some of the most ardent environmentalists are willing to admit. This book 
is about that challenge. 

Of course, both theory and common sense have always told us that 
infinite material growth and unlimited population increases on a finite 




planet are impossible. But somehow, at least in this country, the problem 
has not seemed all that pressing, and for every expert who said it was, 
another could be found to say it was not. Rather, said the latter, it was a 
problem we could safely leave to our grandchildren — and a good thing 
that was, because bringing an end to material growth would demand 
that we make agonizing economic, social, and political choices. Thus, 
despite its undeniable reality, the environmental crisis remains con- 

However, few really disagree with the ultimate implications. At 
least seven major studies concluded, in the 1970s, that population and 
material growth cannot continue forever on a finite planet and that 
conducting “business as usual” will fail to meet basic human needs 
(Corson, 1990, p. 15, citing Meadows et al. 1982). These studies called 
for a “steady-state” society characterized by frugality in the consump- 
tion of resources and by deliberate setting of limits to maintain the 
balance between humanity and nature. In the 1980s five more studies 
came to similar conclusions. Some, including the World Commission 
on Environment and Development, called for “sustainable develop- 
ment.” Its report, Our Common Future (1987), was endorsed by the 
United Nations Environmental Program. Like the concept of a steady 
state, sustainable development requires stable population, high energy 
efficiency, a resource transition based on utilizing nature s “income” 
without depleting its “capital,” and an economic and political transi- 
tion. However, it allows for more growth than “steady state” advocates, 
and advocates of sustainable development are generally more optimis- 
tic about whether the necessary changes can be made. 

Looking at the studies as a whole, the major controversy concerns 
the time scale. The so-called optimists believe that (1) the current 
situation in general is not quite so bad as the doomsayers make out, (2) 
continued scientific and technological ingenuity will keep the eco- 
logical wolf from the door indefinitely, and (3) there are many social 
negative-feedback mechanisms (such as the economic marketplace, 
the impact of media-propagated information on values, and the politi- 
cal process itself) that will promote gradual human adjustment to 
physical limits when and if it becomes necessary. Thus, to put it 
crudely, business as usual can continue for the foreseeable future, and 
to look beyond that is borrowing trouble. The so-called pessimists 
believe, to the contrary, that (1) the situation is more urgent than most 
are willing to admit, (2) limits on our scientific and technological 
ingenuity and on our ability to apply it to the problems confronting us 



are already discernible, and (3) the negative-feedback mechanisms on 
which the optimists would rely have already begun to fail. Thus time is 
short, and far-reaching action by the current generation is imperative to 
avoid overwhelming the earths capacity to support us in dignity. Failure 
to act soon and effectively could lead us into the apocalyptic collapse- 
wars, plague, and famine — predicted by the early demographer and 
political economist Thomas Malthus, whose famous essay on the dangers 
of overpopulation (1798) was the first explicit statement of the environ- 
mental limits on human activity. 

We count ourselves among the pessimists. Thus the first purpose of 
this book is to make clear the nature of the crisis and why it is pressing. 
The second and more important is to draw out in full measure the 
political, social, and economic implications of the crisis, for even some of 
the more prominent environmentalists appear not to have understood 
their import. At least in their public statements, they maintain that a 
sufficient quantity of reform — fairly radical reform, to be sure — would 
rescue us from our ecological predicament. To the extent that more 
radical changes are urged, the language used is often vague. Concrete 
political and social arrangements are rarely discussed, and really fun- 
damental changes in our way of life or our constitutional arrangements 
are, one could gather, virtually unthinkable. 

This book argues, to the contrary, that the external reality of 
ecological scarcity has cut the ground out from under our own 
political system, making merely reformist policies of ecological 
management all but useless. At best, reforms can postpone the in- 
evitable for a few decades at the probable cost of increasing the 
severity of the eventual day of reckoning. In brief, liberal democracy 
as we know it — that is, our theory or “paradigm” of politics (see Box 
1) — is doomed by ecological scarcity; we need a completely new 
political philosophy and set of political institutions. Moreover, it ap- 
pears that the basic principles of modern industrial civilization are also 
incompatible with ecological scarcity and that the whole ideology of 
modernity growing out of the Enlightenment, especially such central 
tenets as individualism, may no longer be viable. 

This conclusion may strike many as extreme. Despite overwhelm- 
ing historical evidence for the rapid mortality of all merely political 
structures, we tend to think of the set of political values and institu- 
tions that we inherit, whether monarchy by divine right or liberal 
democracy, as eternal, immutable, and, above all, right . They are not. 
Political paradigms are, in fact, extraordinarily fragile creations. They 



Paradigms and Political Theories 

The political theories and institutions by which people govern them- 
selves have a high degree of intellectual, emotional, moral, and practical 
coherence. A political society is characterized by definite institutional 
arrangements, both explicit and tacit standards for political behavior, 
and widely shared understandings on such issues as what makes politi- 
cal power legitimate and how constituted authority ought to treat 
members of society (especially how the norms of the political associa- 
tion are to be enforced). We can speak of this ensemble of institutions, 
practices, and beliefs as the political “paradigm” of the society (Wolin 
1968, 1969). 

Because political paradigms have the same kind of internal consis- 
tency as scientific theories, the process of political change is analogous 
to scientific change. Most scientific inquiry — so-called normal 
science — aims at routine puzzle solving under the conceptual umbrella 
of a fundamental scientific theory or paradigm (Kuhn 1970), like the 
famous DNA or double-helix model of gene replication in molecular 
biology. As long as such basic (and pardy metaphysical) theories are suc- 
cessful in solving the puzzles thrown up by nature, allowing normal 
science to make apparent progress, all is well. However, once the puz- 
zles can no longer be solved and disturbing anomalies resist all efforts 
to incorporate them into normal theory, then the community of scien- 
tists sharing this paradigm is ripe for revolution. Scientists begin to cast 
around outside the framework of the old paradigm for answers to the 
crucial anomalies; from this episode of “extraordinary” science emerges 
a new paradigm that overthrows the old, just as one regime replaces 
another in a political revolution. 

Putting this in political terms, every society undergoes stresses. 

New classes, new economic relationships, and new religious or racial 
patterns emerge. But political associations are conservative. Retooling 
the paradigm is “unthinkable” and is likely to be resisted to the bitter 

may of course persist long after the conditions that made them viable 
have vanished, but unhappy the people who live during the long period 
of decay or the swifter decline into revolutionary turmoil. However, our 
predicament is not hopeless. We can adapt ourselves to ecological scarcity 
and preserve most of what is worth preserving in our current political 



end; before it considers radical change, a political society will exhaust 
all possibilities for reform by normal politics — that is, reform within its 
basic constitutional structure. If the puzzle is more or less solved by 
such reform, then the political paradigm carries on as before, slightly 
changed. An example is the extension of suffrage to the working class 
in England. By contrast, the same set of political “facts,” rising political 
consciousness and assertiveness among non-elites, could not be accom- 
modated by the political paradigm of Czarist Russia. Reform efforts 
were unsuccessful, and the new political facts therefore constituted an 
anomaly that led to political crisis and eventually revolution as the only 

There are, of course, significant differences in the way the scientific 
and political communities respond to anomaly. First, although it is rare 
for the ability of the leaders of the scientific community to be im- 
pugned, this is one of the most characteristic responses of the political 
association to impending crisis. As part of its effort to cope with change 
through normal politics — provided the paradigm allows for it, whether 
by election or routinized coup d'etat — it will throw one set of leaders 
out in hopes that the next lot will solve the puzzle better. This is often 
successful. However, a genuine anomaly cannot be solved in this 
fashion, and once it is clear that changes in leadership will not produce 
a solution, the political community can no longer avoid confronting its 
crisis. Second, for a great variety of reasons, political communities are 
much more long-suffering than scientific communities. Unlike scien- 
tists, who make radical efforts to replace a suspect theory as soon as pos- 
sible, members of a political community can tolerate gross anomalies — 
for example, the disparity between the theoretical and the actual status 
of American blacks during the century following the Civil War — for 
generations. However, when the “facts” that constitute anomaly will 
not go away and can no longer be ignored or borne, then revolutionary 
(but not necessarily violent) change becomes inescapable. 

The crisis of ecological scarcity constitutes just such a gross and in- 
eluctable political anomaly. 

and civilizational order. But we must not delay. Events are pressing on us, 
and our options are being rapidly and sharply eroded: Already we face an 
array of potentially tragic choices. To see clearly how and why these 
choices are indeed forced on us, we must commence by examining basic 




This work is an ecological critique of American political institutions and 
their underlying philosophy.* What is this “ecology” upon which the 
argument rests? Webster's Third New International Dictionary gives three 

1. A branch of science concerned with the interrelationship of or- 
ganisms and their environments. 

2. The totality or pattern of relations between organisms and their 

3. Human ecology, [that is,] a branch of sociology that studies the 
relationship between a human community and its environment; 
specifically, the study of the spatial and temporal interrelationships 
between humans and their economic, social, and political organization. 

The first definition describes the work of the professional ecologist, who 
uses laboratory or field observation and experimentation to understand 
the laws governing the interactions of organisms with their living and 
nonliving environment. The second definition indicates a more general 
use of the word— for example, one can speak as readily of “the ecology of 
a peasant community” as of “the ecology of a mountain pine.” Thus one 
would indeed expect human ecology to concern itself with the totality of 
the relationship between a human community and its environment. 
Unfortunately, as the second part of the third definition reveals, the 
purview of human ecology has in practice been rather limited, so that at 
present there exists no genuine science of human ecology in the full 
sense. It is such a science that environmentalists wish to create. 
Meanwhile, they are trying to broaden the meaning of the term human 
ecology to embrace the totality of people’s relationships with their physical 
and living environment, and it is in this sense that we shall use the word 
ecology, except where the context makes it clear that the reference is to the 
science of ecology described in the first definition. 

* Of course, the environmental crisis is global and civilizational in character, 
but beginning with the American case offers a number of advantages, such as 
familiarity to the reader and ready availability of information. Also, American 
society epitomizes the modem way of life in most respects, and if it can be 
shown that modernity will no longer work here, then modernity can be 
presumed to be in trouble elsewhere. Indeed, as we shall see in Chapter 7, very 
little modification is needed to make the argument apply to other developed 
countries and internationally. 



There is etymological justification for this broad use of the term. The 
root of the prefix eco is the Greek word oikos, which means “household.” 
Thus ecology logically is the science or study of the household of the 
human race in its totality. Interestingly enough, the original meaning of 
the term economics , a word also derived from oikos, was “a science or art 
of managing a house or household,” whereas economy was “the 
management of a group, community, or establishment with a view to 
ensuring its maintenance or productiveness.” Today economics has be- 
come “a social science that studies the production, distribution, and 
consumption of commodities.” Thus, from the science of management of 
the human household in all its dimensions, economics has narrowed itself 
to an exclusive focus or the problems of a particular subsystem of 
ecology — the money economy — and treats this subsystem as though it 
were autonomous. 

Of course, professional ecologists are often equally guilty of the 
narrowmindedness that comes from overspecialization. Indeed, 
economist and ecologist alike are victims of the almost vicious degree of 
specialization characteristic of the modern world. The science of human 
ecology now evolving is an effort to bridge the gap between specialties 
and make possible the rational management of the whole human 
household. This effort will require us to become, in effect, specialists in 
the general. Its spirit is well reflected in the redefinition of ecology 
offered by Paul Sears, dean of American professional ecologists: 

It may clear matters somewhat to modify the usual definition of ecology 
as the science of interrelation between life and environment. Actually, it is 
a way of approaching this vast field of experience by drawing upon the best 
information available from whatever source it may come [Sears 1971]. 

To be human ecologists of the kind Sears envisions, we must in- 
tegrate the better part of all human knowledge — clearly an impossible 
goal. Yet, it must be attempted. We must hope that, although any in- 
dividual work in human ecology must fall short of the ideal, there will 
emerge a body of works that complement each other and give us the 
global understanding we need to find our way out of the environmental 
crisis. What follows is the work of one human ecologist and one political 
scientist who happen to be concerned principally with the political 
aspects of managing the human household and who therefore have 
drawn on ecology, other natural sciences, engineering and technology, 
the social sciences, and even the humanities to construct a human— 
ecological critique of the American political economy. 




Much of the ensuing argument will appear not to be about politics at all 
as it is usually defined by the man or woman in the street or the academic 
specialist in politics. The difficulty arises in large part from a narrow 
definition of politics . The word is used to mean either the winning and 
losing of elections and other political battles, for which a more ap- 
propriate word is politicking, or the organization and administration of 
units of government, thereby excluding economic and social phenomena 
as well as religion and many other matters that were once considered part 
and parcel of politics. This pinched understanding of politics reflects the 
impoverished, fragmented view of reality resulting from excessive 
academic specialization, which has created a gap like the one between 
economy and ecology, with similarly perverse consequences. The basic 
political problem is the survival of the community; two of the basic 
political tasks are the provision of food and other biological necessities 
and the establishment of conditions favorable for reproduction. Neither 
of these can be accomplished except in the human household provided 
by nature, and in this sense politics must rest on an ecological foundation. 

The model for such a comprehensive view can be found in the 
political theories of the classical world. As any reader of Plato s Republic or 
Aristotle’s Politics knows, for the ancient philosophers politics was all-in- 
clusive: Religion, poetry, education, and marriage were just as much 
political matters as war, the regulation of property, and the distribution of 
administrative office. Aristode s famous description of the human as the 
“political animal” graphically conveys our uniqueness in being respon- 
sible for organizing our own communal life. Aristode said that men 
without politics would be either gods or beasts. Beasts are ruled by 
instinct and natural necessity; their “government” is genetically given. 
Likewise, the spontaneous, infallible right action of the gods is ordained 
as part of Creation; free of all mortal necessities, gods need no artificial 
government. Only humans — half beast, half god — struggle to govern 
themselves with no certain guide and no assurance of success. For 
Aristotle, as well as for Plato and other major political theorists, “politics” 
concerns this struggle to live in community on the earth, and it therefore 
extends to many things besides government narrowly defined. Aristotle 
asks how this political animal can design and create institutions that will 
assure the survival of the city of man and some measure of the good life 
within it. It is just such a broad conception of politics that informs this 
book: Is the way we organize our communal life and rule ourselves 
compatible with ecological imperatives and other natural laws? 



Ecology is about to engulf economics and politics in that how we 
run our lives will be increasingly determined by ecological imperatives. 
For example, one definition of the term politics that is prevalent among 
academic specialists is “the authoritative allocation of values.” But as 
Woodhouse (1972) points out, what happens in the beds and on the 
sleeping mats of the world should therefore be considered politics, for no 
single thing is likely to determine the general world allocation of values 
in the years to come more “authoritatively” than the reproductive 
behavior of millions of anonymous human beings. 

Thus, whether we like it or not, embracing the larger conception of 
politics that characterized early political theorists is becoming virtually 
inevitable, and this alone is sufficient justification for carefully delineating 
the nature of the laws of human ecology that our politics must hence- 
forth reflect. Moreover, practically speaking, the cogency of many of the 
arguments in the second half of this book depends largely on the 
existence of the kinds of ecological imperatives documented in the first 
half. Thus, expanding our conception of politics to include these ecologi- 
cal imperatives is an important first step toward coming to terms with 
ecological scarcity. 


The habitual condition of civilized people is one of scarcity. Goods have 
never been available in such abundance as to exhaust peoples wants; 
more often than not, even their basic needs have gone unmet. The 
existence of scarcity has momentous consequences, of which one of the 
most important is the utter inevitability of politics. The philosopher 
David Hume argued that if all goods were free, as air and water are, any 
person could get as much as he or she wanted without harming others. 
People would thus willingly share the earth s goods in common “as [do] 
man and wife.” However, without a common abundance of goods, 
“selfishness and the confined generosity of man, along with the scanty 
provision nature has made for his wants,” inevitably produce conflict; 
thus a system of justice that will restrain and regulate the human passions 
is a universal necessity (Hume 1739, III-2-11). The institution of govern- 
ment, whether it takes the form of primitive tabu or parliamentary 
democracy, therefore has its origins in the necessity to distribute scarce 
resources in an orderly fashion. It follows that assumptions about scarcity 
are absolutely central to any economic and political doctrine and that the 
relative scarcity or abundance of goods has a substantial and direct impact 
on the character of political, social, and economic institutions. 



This understanding, however, has been undermined over the past 
three centuries, during which abnormal abundance has shaped all our 
attitudes and institutions. The philosophes of the Enlightenment, daz- 
zled by the rapid progress of science and technology and the begin- 
nings of the Industrial Revolution, envisioned the elevation of the 
common person to the economic nobility as the frontiers of scarcity 
were gradually pushed back. The bonanza of the New World and other 
founts of virgin resources, the take-off and rapid-growth stages of 
science and technology, the availability of “free” ecological resources 
such as air and water to absorb the waste products of industrial 
activities, and other, lesser factors allowed this process to unfold with 
apparent inexorability. Karl Marx, who documented and criticized the 
horrors and inhumanities of the Industrial Revolution, nevertheless 
celebrated its coming because the enormous productive forces un- 
leashed by the bourgeois overthrow of feudalism could be used to 
abolish scarcity. With scarcity abolished, poverty, inequality, injustice, 
and all the other flowers of evil rooted in scarcity would simply wither 
away; not even a state would be needed, he thought, because every- 
thing would be a free good, like Humes air and water, that humans 
could share together without conflict. 

Marx’s utopian assessment of the possibilities of material growth was 
shared or came to be shared by almost all in the West, though in a less 
extreme form and with considerable difference of opinion on how the 
march to utopia should be organized. For example, the works of the 
political philosopher John Locke and of the economist Adam Smith, the 
two men who gave bourgeois political economy its fundamental direc- 
tion, are shot through with the assumption that there is always going to 
be more: more land in the colonies, more wealth to be dug from the 
ground, and so on. Thus virtually all the philosophies, values, and institu- 
tions typical of modern society are the luxuriant fruit of an era of 
apparently endless abundance. The return of scarcity in any guise there- 
fore represents a serious challenge to the modern way of life. 

Worse, scarcity appears to be returning in a new and more daunting 
form that we call ecological scarcity. Instead of simple Malthusian 
overpopulation and famine (as though that weren’t enough), we must 
now also worry about shortages of the vast array of energy and mineral 
resources necessary to keep the engines of industrial production running, 
about pollution and other limits of tolerance in natural systems, about 
such physical constraints as the laws of thermodynamics, about complex 
problems of planning and administration, and about a host of other 



factors Malchus never dreamed of. Ecological scarcity is thus an ensemble 
of separate but interacting limits and constraints on human action, and it 
appears to pose problems far surpassing those presented to our ancestors 
by scarcity in its classical form. 

The nature and difficulty of the challenge we confront are apparent 
in the ironic fact that the very things Hume used to illustrate the state of 
infinite abundance — air and water — have become scarce goods that must 
be allocated by political decisions. The profundity of the challenge is also 
apparent in the economist Kenneth Bouldings use of the concept 
“spaceman economy” to describe the consequences of ecological scarcity. 
According to Boulding, because our overpopulated globe is coming 
increasingly to resemble a spaceship of finite dimensions, with neither 
mines nor sewers, our welfare depends not upon increasing the rate of 
consumption or the number of consumers', both of which are potentially 
fatal, but on the extent to which we can wring from minimum resources 
the maximum richness and amenity for a reasonable population. A good, 
perhaps even an affluent, life is possible, but “it will have to be combined 
with a curious parsimony”; in fact, “far from scarcity disappearing, it will 
be the most dominant aspect of the society; every grain of sand will have 
to be treasured, and the waste and profligacy of our own day will seem so 
horrible that our descendants will hardly be able to bear to think about 
us” (Boulding 1966). There is, of course, no historical precedent for such 
a society. What is ultimately required by the crisis of ecological scarcity is 
the invention of a new mode of civilization, for nothing less seems likely 
to meet the challenge. 

Political Theory 

It is not the aim of this book to prescribe the form of post-industrial 
civilization but rather to document the existence of ecological scarcity, 
show how it will come to dominate our political life, and then make plain 
the inability of our current political culture and machinery to cope with 
its challenges. From this analysis, a range of possible answers to the crisis 
will emerge. For example, if individualism is shown to be problematic in 
an era of ecological scarcity, then the answer must lie somewhere toward 
the communal end of the political spectrum. Also, certain general dilem- 
mas that confront us — for example, the political price attached to con- 
tinued technological growth will be made explicit. 

In brief, then, this work is a prologue to a political theory of the 
steady state. Yet although it stops well short of formulating a genuine 



political theory of the steady state, it is directly concerned with the great 
issues that have dominated traditional thought about politics. Our essen- 
tial purpose is to show how the perennial, but dormant, questions of 
political philosophy have been revived by ecological scarcity. We shall see, 
for example, that the political problems related to the task of environ- 
mental management have to do primarily with the ends of political 
association, rather than with the political means needed to achieve 
agreed-upon goals. The questions that arise from the ensuing analysis are 
essentially value questions: What is the common interest? Undercurrent 
conditions, is liberal democracy a suitable and desirable vehicle for 
achieving it? What, indeed, is the good life for men and women? In other 
words, we confront the same kinds of questions that Aristotle, in common 
with the other great theorists of politics, asks. We are obliged by the 
environmental crisis to enlarge our conception of politics to its classical 
dimensions. To use a famous capsule description of politics, the questions 
about who gets what, when, how, and why must be reexamined and 
answered anew by our generation. Our goal in this book is to set the 
agenda for such a philosophical reexamination of our politics. 

However, we do not approach this task as does a traditional political 
philosopher. Past theorists seeking guidance for human action have 
grounded their ideas on revelation or induction. Either, like Plato, they 
have appealed to some a priori metaphysical principle from which the 
shape of the desirable political order can be deduced, or, like Aristotle, 
they have examined human behavior over time to see whether certain 
kinds of political institutions are more effective than others in producing 
a happy and virtuous people. Of course, many theorists have mixed these 
approaches, and some have introduced other considerations. In almost all 
cases, however, humanity’s linkage to nature has counted for little. By 
contrast, like Malthus, we start with humanity’s dependence on nature 
and the basic human problems of biological survival. 

To be sure, most political and social thinkers have acknowledged 
humanity’s ultimate dependence on nature, and a few have devoted 
some attention to the specific effects that environmental constraints 
have had on people. In Book One of The Politics, Aristotle discusses 
scarcity and other ecological limits, implying that because of them 
slavery may be necessary for civilized life. Plato in Book Two of The 
Republic and Rousseau in The Second Discourse also display a subtle 
awareness of the impact the evolving process of getting one’s daily 
bread can have on social institutions. Nevertheless, with the major 
exception of Malthus, political and social theorists have tended to take 
the biological existence of men and women as given. This is no longer 



Nor is it possible any longer to ignore humanity’s impact on the 
environment. Of course, concern about this impact and the consequent 
damage to human welfare also has a long history (Glacken 1956). Over 
two thousand years ago, Plato in Greece and Mencius in China both 
worried about the destruction of habitat caused by overgrazing and 
deforestation. The early Christian writer Tertullian called wars, plagues, 
famines, and earthquakes blessings because they “serve to prune away the 
luxuriant growth of the human race” (Hardin 1969, p. 18), and Aristotle 
found the poverty caused by population growth to be the parent of 
revolution and crime: “If no restriction is imposed on the rate of 
reproduction... poverty is the inevitable result; and poverty produces, in 
its turn, civic dissension and wrong doing” (Barker 1952, p. 59). Clearly, 
certain of the environmental problems we face today have been with 
human beings since the very beginning of civilization. 

The character of these problems, however, has changed markedly 
over the centuries. In ancient times, humanity’s impact on the en- 
vironment was local; by the eighteenth century, worldwide effects 
were becoming apparent; writers of the nineteenth century remarked 
on the extent of this impact and its cumulative effects; and observers 
in this century have focused on the acceleration of change. Ac- 
cumulating quantitative impact has thus brought about a qualitative 
difference in our relation to the physical world: We are now the prime 
agent of change in the biosphere and are capable of destroying the 
environment that supports us. The radically different conditions 
prevailing today virtually force us to be ecological theorists, grounding 
our analysis on the basic problems of human survival on a finite and 
vulnerable planet endowed with limited resources. 

A second contrast between this work and traditional political theory 
is that, again like Malthus, our effort throughout is to identify the critical 
limits to and constraints on human action. We wish to discover what is 
possible — or, alternatively, what we are forced to do — rather than what is 
desirable. In other words, values come last in this supposedly philosophi- 
cal analysis.* This is not because we disdain the eternal questions of value, 
but because a value-neutral approach is called for on very practical 

* As will be explained shortly, values will be crucial to creating a steady-state 
society, but values that are widely accepted today as immutable may have to 
change so that we can either avert or endure harmful changes in the natural 



First of all, philosophical, ethical, and spiritual arguments seem to 
appeal only to the converted. Hard-headed scientists, technologists, 
bureaucrats, and businesspeople — the men and women who make the 
basic decisions that shape our futures — do not often pay much attention 
to such arguments. If one is to argue constructively with the people who 
incarnate our cultural and political norms, one must argue the case in 
their own terms. This requires that one adopt a fundamentally empirical 
and scientific or agnostic approach, putting aside the question of values, at 
least temporarily, to find instead what is possible given the natural laws 
that govern our planet. 

Second, one of the most important reasons for focusing on limits 
and constraints is the nature of our predicament. Although the human 
species has never enjoyed total freedom of choice, at some times and 
places a relative abundance of everything needed for the maintenance of 
life and the construction of culture has made the latitude of choice 
correspondingly large. By contrast, people cast adrift in a lifeboat with 
short supplies, say, or the trapped inhabitants of a besieged town, face 
many painful dilemmas; if they wish to survive, they must impose 
stringent limits on their behavior. Similarly, by its very nature a spaceship 
imposes a certain type of social design on those embarked. As our 
circumstances come to resemble those of space travelers, we may expect 
knowledge of this social design to tell us a great deal about what we 
must do — in other words, to plot the relatively narrow range within 
which the values and the moral requirements can lie. Nature s dictates 
become our policies if we wish to survive. 

Nevertheless, questions of value are inescapable. There being no 
agreed-upon prime value — not even survival — that dominates all 
others, solving every problem of public and private morality neces- 
sitates trade-offs between desired goods. To illustrate briefly, even if 
ecologists could predict with absolute certainty that a continuation of 
current trends would produce massive death and other catastrophes by 
A.D. 2000, people might still decide, in a spirit of profligate fatalism, to 
doom posterity rather than forgo current enjoyment. Moreover, we 
shall not face totally forced choices. There are a number of possible 
solutions to the lifeboat problem and an even larger number to the 
spaceship problem, so the outcome will be the result of a complex 
interplay between limits and constraints, our present and future 
capacity to evade or manipulate limits, and our values. In brief, science 
can only define the limits to political and social vision; it cannot prescribe 
the contents. Where science ends, wisdom necessarily begins, and we 
hope this book will help prepare the reader for making decisions and 
judgments at that point. 



The Steady State 

Many of those who examine our ecological predicament tend to agree 
that we are headed toward a steady-state society .* Although the concept 
must be refined further, a steady-state society is one that has achieved a 
basic, long-term balance between the demands of a population and the 
environment that supplies its wants. Implicit in this definition are the 
preservation of a healthy biosphere, the careful husbanding of resources, 
self-imposed limitations on consumption, long-term goals to guide 
short-term choices, and a general attitude of trusteeship toward future 
generations. Useful analogies include living off annual income instead of 
eating up capital and managing the earth as we would a perpetual-yield 
forest, so that it continues to thrive and replenish itself “for as long as the 
grass shall grow and the sun shall shine.” 

The rest of the book will help make these abstractions somewhat 
more concrete. For one thing, from an analysis of our current errors we 
can infer at least some aspects of the steady-state society, even though a 
full and systematic description is beyond our present ability. However, it 
is important to understand from the outset that the exact nature of the 
balance at any time depends on technological capacities and social choice, 
and as choices and capacities change, organic growth can occur. For this 
reason, the steady state is by no means a state of stagnation; it is a dynamic 
equilibrium affording ample scope for continued artistic, intellectual, 
moral, scientific, and spiritual growth. 

Indeed, without substantial human growth in every dimension, the 
steady-state society can never be realized. Devising an ecological technol- 
ogy or a new set of political institutions for the steady state is the lesser 
part of the problem, for its core is ethical, moral, and spiritual. This idea is 
well expressed in a metaphor suggested by George Perkins Marsh, a 
major figure in the history of the American conservation movement and 
the greatest pioneer of human ecology after Malthus. Marshs major work 
(1864) depicts the human race as a heedless cottager tearing down his 
earthly abode for kindling in order to keep a lively but evanescent fire 
blazing in the hearth. By inference, the men and women of a steady-state 

* Stationary-state society and equilibrium society are alternative terms. The former 
is the traditional economic label for a state of zero growth. Because it tends to 
imply a condition of rigor mortis, it is not entirely suitable as a description of 
what is in store for us. Some believe that even steady-state is too static and prefer 
equilibrium or a sustainable society. Advocates of a sustainable society believe that 
“growth” can continue to occur but must conform to natural limits. Rightly 
understood, however, steady-state is appropriate and we shall normally use it. 



society would take excellent care to see that their earthly household was 
preserved intact, knowing that posterity (if not they themselves) would 
have use for it. Through frugality and good stewardship, they would seek 
ways to be warm that would nevertheless allow them to pass the cot- 
tage — improved if possible, but at all costs undamaged — down to their 
children. The ultimate goal, then, is as much an ethical ideal (the good 
stewardship enjoined by the Biblical parable) as a concrete set of political, 
economic, and social arrangements. 

We shall return to this point at the end of our analysis. Meanwhile, 
let us in Part I explore ecology and the ecological limits and constraints 
now beginning to press down on us. Next, in Part II, we shall go on to 
examine the political challenges. Perhaps then we shall understand better 
why we need not only a new theory of political economy but probably a 
new theology as well. 


Ecological Scarcity 
and the Limits to 

The Science of Ecology 

The Synthetic Science 

Ecology’s synthetic nature distinguishes it from the more reductionist 
branches of science. On the grandest scale, ecologists try to understand 
the process of life in the context of the chemical, geological, and 
meteorological environment by assembling the isolated knowledge of 
specialists into a single, ordered system. Indeed, the subject matter of 
ecology is so large that simple experimentation is often not feasible. 
Hence ecologists often conduct observational studies on a functional unit 
called the ecosystem (the community of organisms living in a specified 
locale, along with the nonbiological factors in the environment — air, 
water, rock, and so on — that support them, as well as the ensemble of 
interactions among all these components). 

Understanding the process of life requires seeing ecosystems in 
dynamic and historical terms. Contemporary ecosystems have developed 
from particular origins and are undergoing both short-term changes and 
long-term evolution. Ernest Haeckel, one of the founders of ecology, 
defined this science as “the body of knowledge concerning the economy 
of nature,” and Charles Elton described his ecological work as “scientific 
natural history [concerned with] the sociology and economics of 
animals” (Kormondy 1969, pp. vi-ix). In sum, systems ecologists try to 
reveal the general principles that govern the operation of the whole 
system called the biosphere, the part of the planetary system that contains 
or influences life. 




From this description, it should be obvious that because humanity 
inhabits the biosphere, ecology must also be concerned with human 
activities. Today there can be no valid distinction between ecology and 
human ecology. Nevertheless, ecologists have until recently concerned 
themselves with the economy of nature in pristine environments relative- 
ly undefiled by human intervention. In this way they have succeeded in 
discovering some of the general principles that govern the economy of 
nature. Using their findings, we shall give a synoptic overview of the basic 
principles of ecology. However, our discussion is framed in terms of 
human rather than scientific ecology. That is, those things that have 
special relevance to human action are emphasized in this description of 
general ecological principles and of the basic structure of the natural 
life-support system of our planetary spaceship. 

Interdependence and Emergent Properties 

A fundamental principle of ecology is that an ecosystem is more than the 
sum of its individual parts; that is, just as the properties of water are not 
predictable from the individual properties of oxygen and hydrogen, so the 
emergent properties of ecosystems are not predictable solely from the 
properties of the living entities and nonliving matter of which they are 
composed. Each ecosystem on Earth must be understood in terms of the 
interactions of its components. This principle requires ecology to be a 
synthetic and process-oriented science. 

Flowing immediately from this first principle is the fact of inter- 
dependence. Every phenomenon within any ecosystem one chooses to 
examine can be shown to be related to every other phenomenon within 
it. Moreover, there are rarely any simple relationships; every effect is also 
a cause in the web of natural interdependency. Of course, not all relation- 
ships are equally important or equally sensitive, and many are indirect. 
Certain kinds of important interrelationship are intuitively obvious even 
to the casual observer. We all know that there are predators and prey, that 
microbes can cause disease, and that worms inherit the bodies of those 
who are buried. However, the casual observer is unaware of the numerous 
other interrelationships in nature, many of critical importance. The num- 
ber of living components alone and the variety and complexity of their 
couplings are bewildering. For example, no one has ever made a com- 
plete census of all the organisms that inhabit so simple an ecosystem as a 

The fact of interrelationship is so pervasive that it bridges the classic 
dichotomy between the living and the nonliving components of an 

The Science of Ecology 


ecosystem: “The living and nonliving parts of ecosystems are so interwoven 
into the fabric of nature that it is difficult to separate them” (E. P. Odum 
1971, p. 10). The evolution of animals, for example, did not take place in a 
static physical environment to which life then adapted. Rather, early life 
modified the physical environment, gradually transforming an extremely 
inhospitable environment into one suitable for the organisms we know 
today. Both air and soil are the products of living systems, and their main- 
tenance depends on the work of minute organisms. As a result of their 
ordinary metabolic processes, tiny plants have respired the oxygen in our 
atmosphere and created soils out of rock and dead organic material. If we 
humans leave them relatively undisturbed, they will continue to supply us 
with the breath of life, keep our soils viable, and purify our waters. 

The fact of interdependence makes the concept of community one 
of the most important in ecology. Diverse organisms live together and 
engage in complex reciprocal interactions. The implications of this fact 
are profound, for people are inevitably major players in the communities 
they occupy. The principle also shows that many of our practices are 
misguided. For example, ecologists have often found that the most 
effective and safest way of controlling a so-called pest is not to attack the 
pest organism directly but to modify the community so that the pest is 
naturally controlled within the network of interdependencies that con- 
stitute the community. This gives rise to the catch phrases “Everything is 
connected to everything else” and “You can never do just one thing.” 
Let us examine some specific examples to see why human intervention 
often produces unexpected and unintended effects on ecosystems. 

Unintended Consequences , the Price of Intervention 

Because every effect is also a cause, changing one factor in a well-adapted 
and smoothly functioning ecosystem is likely to unleash a chain of 
second-, third-, and fourth-order consequences. For example, when an 
organism from one ecosystem is transferred (either unintentionally or by 
design) to another, it is likely at first to “run amok,” for the new 
ecosystem has no history of dealing with such an organism and therefore 
no mechanism to control its spread. It becomes an “instant pathogen,” 
like the measles that decimated Eskimos and South Sea Islanders follow- 
ing their first contacts with Western civilization. Examples of introduced 
pests — the Japanese beetle, Dutch elm blight, the gypsy moth, and the 
rabbit in Australia — are also well known. 

Just as adding organisms to ecosystems spells danger, subtracting them 
may cause the whole web of interdependencies in the ecosystem to 



unravel. Many different types of human activities (habitat destruction, 
unregulated hunting and fishing, fire, pollution, and others that are less 
obvious, such as noise) can have the effect of eliminating a key species in 
an ecosystem, which in turn causes related components to decline or 
collapse. Insecticides, especially DDT, provide the classic illustrations of 
what happens when we use drastic measures to accomplish what appear 
to be simple goals — when we try to do “just one thing.” In a remote 
jungle village in Borneo, health workers sprayed the walls of the villagers’ 
huts' with DDT to control the mosquitoes that spread malaria. And 
control the mosquitoes it did. However, the lizards that patrolled the walls 
of the huts inevitably absorbed large quantities of DDT (both from 
coming in contact with the sprayed walls and from eating poisoned prey), 
and they died. This had the unfortunate effects of killing the village cats, 
which ate the moribund and poisonous lizards, and leaving the straw- 
loving caterpillars (hitherto kept in check by the lizards) that inhabited 
the thatched roof free to gorge without limit. The end result was a plague 
of rats, the population of which exploded in the near absence of cats, and 
destruction of the roofs of the villagers’ huts (Anon. 1968). 

This might be simply an entertaining story were it not, in effect, a 
model of what pesticides and other chemicals are doing to the global 
life-support system. Like DDT, many of these chemicals are poisonous to 
a broad spectrum of life forms. And like DDT, they are persistent. Because 
they are synthetic rather than natural compounds, no organisms have 
evolved an ability to metabolize them; hence they accumulate to 
dangerous levels in ecosystems. In addition, as with DDT, the 
phenomenon of “biological magnification” concentrates poisonous sub- 
stances approximately tenfold with each step up the food chain, because 
each grazer or predator must eat many times its own weight in smaller 
organisms. The release of even modest quantities of chemicals can there- 
fore become lethal to the carnivores (eagles and pelicans, for example) at 
the top of the food chain. We would be wise to remember that humans 
also feed at the top of our food chains. 

People who protest that the extinction of a few carnivore species is a 
small price to pay for protecting our crops against the ravages of pests are 
missing the point. The Bermuda petrel, say, could disappear, and the 
richness of the biosphere on a worldwide scale would hardly be 
diminished. Indeed, the extinction of many top-carnivore species as a 
result of chemical poisoning would not jeopardize our survival directly. 
However, their disappearance is an indicator of an ecological sickness, just 
as sugar in the urine, though not dangerous in itself, indicates diabetes. 

The long-term consequences of such ecological illness are poten- 
tially grave. It has been experimentally shown, for example, that many 

The Science of Ecology 


synthetic chemicals in widespread use affect the species composition of 
plankton in the ocean, a change that might have serious implications not 
only for the structure of oceanic food chains (of which plankton are the 
base) but also for the role of plankton in the ocean s governance of the 
cycles that rule the biosphere, such as the reduction of atmospheric 
carbon dioxide. One of the most worrisome aspects of this kind of 
problem is that, owing to the inherent lag in biological systems, the peak 
concentrations, and therefore the full impact, of chemicals that are 
released is not experienced until some time in the future. The possibility 
therefore exists that we have already done irreparable damage but that we 
will find out only when it is too late. 

Moreover, trying to make simple modifications to ecosystems fre- 
quently turns out to be futile as well as self-destructive. Chemical insec- 
ticides again provide a model. Plant-eating insects have a long history of 
adapting to chemical warfare, because the principal defense of plants 
against being eaten is to make their vulnerable parts unpalatable or 
poisonous. Thus, although an application of insecticide may kill all but a 
few of a given pest population, those hardy few live to reproduce, and 
they pass to their numerous progeny the resistant genes that enabled them 
to survive the poison. Before too many generations have passed, virtually 
an entire population of pests has become resistant to the chemical being 
used, and the war must be escalated with vastly increased dosages or new 
chemical weapons.* In the long term, this is a no-win strategy for we 
cannot expect to stay ahead indefinitely in chemical war with insects . T 

* The same kind of problem is being encountered in our w*ar against microbes. 
Bacterial resistance to the common antibiotics is increasing rapidly, to the alarm 
of the World Health Organization (Dixon 1974). 

f By 1980 more than 400 insects, ticks, and mites had developed pesticide resistance, 
along with more than 100 bacteria and viruses. Chemical manufacturers put more 
than 1000 new* pesticides on the market each year in an attempt to overcome pest 
resistance. Since the 1940s, crop losses to insects have doubled even as farmers 
increased their use of pesticides tenfold (Mott 1988, pp.20-29). x^ccording to the 
National Academy of Sciences, “alternative agriculture,” defined as farming without 
chemicals or with “low -input” pesticide applications, has become more productive 
than chemical farming in some cases because of the expense of applying more 
drastic pesticide applications (1989, pp.4-6) (see Chapter 2). Nevertheless, substantial 
organizational and government obstacles prevent widespread adoption of these 



Indeed, it is likely to leave us worse off, because the insecticide may 
destroy many of the natural controls on the pests population. Insec- 
tivorous birds and insects, which ordinarily exert control over the pest, are 
killed off. (Predators, because they have much smaller populations and 
reproduce more slowly than plant-eating insects, are much less likely to 
evolve resistance to the pesticides.) Thus, even if they were not ecologi- 
cally destructive, single-purpose technological solutions would probably 
not succeed in a natural environment characterized by an all-pervasive 

The human ecological problem is that all the activities we call 
development tend to involve relatively single-purpose additions to or 
subtractions from natural ecosystems. Cases abound in which the nega- 
tive unintended effects of intervention outweigh the intended primary 
effects (Farvar and Milton 1968). Consider the dams and irrigation 
projects that have spread schistosomiasis (bilharzia, an extremely debilitat- 
ing parasitic disease) or that have led to loss of productive land through 
salinization or erosion (see Chapter 2). In order to understand more 
clearly how “everything is connected to everything else” and why 
human action can therefore boomerang ecologically, let us examine the 
economy of nature more closely. 

Homeostatic Stability 

A major characteristic of undisturbed natural systems is that they are in a 
state of homeostasis — that is, they include mechanisms of self-main- 
tenance and self-regulation that, in some cases, produce a relatively stable 
balance or dynamic equilibrium. Even certain kinds of disruption, such as 
fire and flood, that one might consider destructive of natural ecosystems, 
actually contribute to the renewal of those systems. Fires and floods, after 
all, have been around for so long that plant and animal communities have 
become highly adapted to these stresses. Thus, apart from local disruption 
due to volcanism and earthquakes, the status of natural ecosystems is 
threatened only by long-term changes in climate and geology and by the 
actions of humans. 

The interactions of the biological components tend to prevent any 
one species from changing the character of the ecosystem. If the popula- 
tion of one species starts to grow, then the population that preys on it 
responds by growing also. Even top predators, who need not fear being 
eaten themselves, are subject to parasites and disease as well as other 
“density-dependent” causes of mortality. And if for some reason too 
many predators are alive, the number of prey is soon reduced to the point 
where some predators starve and a balance is restored. 

The Science of Ecology 


Ecologists conceive of the biosphere as an open system in a steady 
state that is driven by the fairly constant input of energy from the sun and 
in which a finite stock of materials is constantly recycled. What charac- 
terizes this steady state and how is it maintained? 

The Life Cycle 

Sunlight is the energy source for photosynthesis in plants ranging from 
microscopic phytoplankton to giant trees. In photosynthesis, carbon 
dioxide, water, and other inorganic chemicals are combined to create 
the carbohydrates that plants require for their own metabolism and 
growth and upon which animals feed. At the same time, plants also 
respire the oxygen that animals use to metabolize their food. Because 
plants take nutrients in raw inorganic form from the environment and 
convert them to the organic form required to support the higher levels 
on the food chain, the plants are called producers . The producers are 
consumed by organisms at the next level of the food chain, the 
herbivores, who are called the primary consumers. They in turn are eaten 
by the carnivores, the secondary consumers. Except for the carbon 
dioxide respired by the consumers, which is available for the 
producers, the flow of materials so far described is unidirectional. If it 
continued, the transfer of energy would not be cyclical. Soon 
producers would exhaust their supplies of chemical nutrients and 
cease producing; the rest of the food chain would then collapse. But 
there is another major group of organisms whose role is to take all 
organic debris — dead producers and consumers, feces, and detritus 
such as fallen leaves — and break it down into its inorganic com- 
ponents. These components can then be reused by the producers, and 
the whole system stays in operation. These organisms — bacteria, fungi, 
and insects — are called decomposers. 

In reality, of course, things are much more complex than this simple 
schema conveys. In nature food webs usually replace simple food chains, 
and there are even some plants that eat insects. Nevertheless, the schema 
conveys the essence of the major cycle of life. 

It is useful to note that the absence of complexity in human agricul- 
tural fields is responsible for pest problems. A monoculture of corn or any 
otherjrrop is a highly simplified ecosystem containing large numbers of 
one highly succulent species of plant. Responding to the banquet spread 
before them, insects multiply rapidly and become pests. When farmers 
attempt to kill the pests, they destroy the natural controls on the pest 
population, thus simplifying the system still further and exacerbating the 



Biogeochemical Cycles 

In addition to the basic life cycle, there are many material cycles of 
critical importance to the operation of the biosphere. In the well-known 
water cycle, water evaporates from the oceans and other bodies of water 
to be transported by the atmosphere (via energy from the sun) over the 
land, where it precipitates to be used by plants and animals and evaporate 
once again, or run off eventually to the sea, thus closing the cycle. The 
nitrogen cycle, on the other hand, is a major biogeochemical cycle little 
appreciated by the nonspecialist. Plants need nitrogen compounds to 
grow, but the nitrogen gas in the atmosphere is biologically inert and 
cannot be used directly by the plants. Various bacteria and algae, some 
living free in the soil and others associated with the roots or leaves of 
plants, are capable of “fixing” the nitrogen from the atmosphere into 
compounds that plants can absorb and use. Other microorganisms 
decompose fallen organic material and break down its nitrogen into a 
form suitable for plant nutrition. The plant may then be eaten by an 
animal; the nitrogen is either excreted or returned to the soil when the 
animal dies, thus closing the cycle. 

All such natural cycles are of the same character: The materials 
necessary to maintain the processes of life are used and then recycled such 
that they can be used again. Unlike the energy in sunlight, these materials 
have no cosmic inputs; the biosphere works with the finite quantity of 
each element that is present on the planet. In contrast to human activities, 
a well-functioning ecosystem reuses materials with great efficiency. In- 
deed, there is almost no such thing as waste in nature, for by and large one 
organisms waste is another’s food. Without this cycling of materials, 
organisms would long ago have drowned in their own wastes. 

Many of the natural cycles interlock in critical ways. For example, the 
soil is the home of the decomposers that provide terrestrial plants not 
only with nitrogen but also with all other necessary nutrients. Damage to 
the soil disrupts many different cycles. In an interdependent ecosystem, 
some components are more sensitive to disruption than others because 
their role is large or critical, and comparatively minor disruptions in such 
components can be amplified into major consequences for the system as 
a whole. In this connection, it is impossible to overemphasize the utter 
dependence of all life on the tiny creatures that play essential roles in all 
natural cycles. Just as the nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria play a critical 
role in the nitrogen cycle, so the phytoplankton in the oceans are 
indispensable for the homeostatic maintenance of the oxygen and carbon 
cycles. The survival of these critical components and the integrity of the 
basic cycles are crucial to long-term human welfare. 

The Science of Ecology 


The instructive contrast with human practices should be apparent. In 
earlier eras, human detritus was principally organic, and it was, like 
humanity itself, scattered thinly over the surface of the earth. More 
recently, humans have come to generate large quantities of nonorganic 
waste, and their organic wastes are highly concentrated in limited areas. 
Local ecosystems cannot absorb all that is asked of them. Furthermore, 
organic waste no longer tends to be deposited near where the raw 
materials were obtained, for some regions are agricultural mines that 
produce food for people living far away, whose waste is not returned to 
the soil but dumped into the ocean. Farmers try to make up for this loss 
by applying artificial fertilizer, which not only requires a large amount of 
energy to manufacture but also creates water pollution when it runs off 
into lakes and rivers, becoming yet another waste out of place in natural 
cycles. Despite the prevalence of cycles in the biosphere, not all natural 
processes are perfectly cyclical. Although, in general, the biosphere is 
characterized by closed cycling in a steady state, the cycle of materials is 
not completely closed except over the longest spans of time. Indeed, 
some processes are irreversibly linear (erosion is an obvious example), and 
ecosystems do not reuse chemicals with total efficiency. Thus materials 
eventually find their way into a “sink,” typically the abyss of the sea. After 
many years, the process of mountain building may return these materials 
to the active part of the biosphere and they may thus reenter the cycle, 
but in the short run their path is unidirectional. Similarly, fossil fuels are 
the residue of nonrecycled organic material deposited during past 
geological ages. They are a stored source of solar or photosynthetic 
energy that we are using up and that can be replenished, if at all, only in 
some future geological era. 

The Limits of Ecosystems 

Why are human-made wastes a problem for ecosystems? After all, if 
ecosystems are self- maintaining and self-regulating, might one not infer 
that they can repair themselves after experiencing major environmental 
stresses? Unfortunately, this is true only within certain natural limits. 
Over the course of evolution, species become adapted to conditions their 
ancestors faced in the past, and by analogy, ecosystems can survive certain 
stresses to which they are adapted. Thus ecosystems can cope with fire, 
but not with large doses of radiation, synthetic chemicals (for which no 
decomposer exists), and the other novel stresses with which human 
activity taxes them. Given enough time, organisms might evolve to meet 
the new conditions, and ecosystems would restructure themselves until 
they were once again in a state of dynamic homeostasis. Unfortunately, 



these processes require time on a geological scale, and human-made 
stresses come too fast for the processes of evolution to keep pace. Some 
wastes (such as sewage) are biodegradable, and some human-made stresses 
(such as heat) are natural in the sense that they are not completely new to 
nature; yet these too can cause environmental disruption if the rate at 
which they enter an ecosystem is greater than the rate at which they can 
be absorbed. Under such conditions, the system is driven away from 
homeostatic stability toward disruption. 

This process is illustrated by the phenomenon called eutrophication, 
the overenrichment of an aquatic ecosystem by an excess of nutrients. In 
a freshwater lake, algae (the producers) grow and are grazed on by 
herbivorous invertebrates and fish (the primary consumers), who in turn 
are eaten by carnivores (the secondary consumers). The fish release waste 
and die, providing food for the decomposers, who generate the inorganic 
products the algae need as food. The system is essentially closed and in 
balance. Furthermore, it is capable of handling normal environmental 
stresses. In response to the light of the summer sun, the algae multiply 
rapidly, temporarily depleting the supply of inorganic nutrients. But the 
fish react by eating more algae and increasing their own population, 
which creates additional organic waste that the decomposers turn into 
nutrients for the algae. A new level of seasonal stability is attained. Having 
had to adapt to this stress annually for eons, the ecosystem has developed 
an appropriate self-regulating response. 

However, when a lake is artificially enriched with inorganic phos- 
phorus compounds (previously common in household detergents), the 
algae, which are ordinarily limited by the low level of phosphorus in the 
lake, multiply very rapidly. If the additional level of nutrients is sufficient, 
the algae can become so dense that the water is impenetrable. The fish 
cannot respond (reproductively) fast enough to contain the algal popula- 
tion explosion. As algae complete their life cycle and start to die in large 
numbers, the amount of dead organic matter becomes so great that the 
bacterial decomposers begin to deplete the oxygen content of the water. 
The lowered oxygen availability results in the death of many fish, further 
adding to the decomposers’ load. But the algae continue to grow because 
they no longer depend on the decomposers to supply them with 
nutrients and because the primary herbivores (the fish) have died off. And 
so on, in a vicious circle. Sudden enrichment has destroyed the negative- 
feedback mechanism governing algal growth, resulting in excessive 
production that the rest of the ecosystem cannot tolerate, given the 
existence of other limits such as oxygen content. 

Note that two kinds of intrinsic limits operate in this case. First, there 
is the physical limit set by the oxygen supply when the nutrients that 

The Science of Ecology 


ordinarily limit algal growth are available in excess. Second, the system is 
limited by the biological lag built into its self-regulating mechanisms. If 
fish could reproduce as rapidly as algae (and if other factors, such as 
oxygen, needed by the fish as well as the decomposers, were not limiting), 
then any algal bloom could be contained. But because ecosystems are 
adapted to much more modest levels of stress than humans are capable of 
inflicting, they typically cannot respond to sudden or massive stress 
rapidly enough to prevent the system from being overwhelmed. 

Our understanding of biogeochemical cycles underscores the 
ecological axiom that “everything must go somewhere.” The law of the 
conservation of matter states that matter can be transformed but cannot 
be created or destroyed. The self-maintaining cycles circulate materials 
throughout the biosphere as long as the sun continues to provide the 
energy required. Waste is essentially a human phenomenon; it obstructs or 
destroys the natural cycles unless it is introduced into ecosystems in 
disposable form, in acceptable amounts, and at manageable rates, all of 
which depend on the natural limits of the ecosystem. Merely dumping 
wastes does not solve our waste-disposal problem in any but the most 
temporary fashion, for the consequence of pollution is a decaying or 
dying ecosystem. The biosphere is in effect our biological capital, from 
which we draw income in the form of food, water, and breath (to 
mention only the most fundamental requisites of life), so human health 
and survival are direcdy related to the health of the biosphere. 

The Price of Intervention 

Human intervention in nature is inevitable because we, like all other 
organisms, have an impact on the ecosystems in which we live. The 
ancestral humans were hunter-gatherers without fire or even the crudest 
technology. With the subsequent development of technology, our impact 
on the environment was magnified, and unfortunately that impact has 
had a detrimental effect on nearly every ecosystem we inhabit. 

The issue of ecosystem disturbance has become an economic one: 
Because every intervention in nature to solve a problem or obtain a 
benefit simultaneously creates new problems and generates environmen- 
tal costs, we must make certain that the trade-off between benefits and 
costs is truly in their favor. As indicated in the Introduction, environmen- 
tal disruption has a very long history, but the magnitude of human 
intervention has grown enormously, particularly in the modern era. In 
earlier days, the benefits of environmental intervention probably far 
outweighed the costs. Through ignorance, we damaged ecosystems more 
than necessary to get those benefits, but our numbers and the low level of 



technology we possessed made it impossible for us to tear asunder the 
fabric of nature. This is no longer true. Nature has indeed been destroyed, 
at least to the point where humans may find it difficult or impossible to 
survive in many areas. What are some of the trade-offs built into the 
economy of nature? 

Ecological Succession 

Nature is not static. The biosphere is a dynamic and open steady-state 
system; ecosystems always contain the latent capacity to change in 
response to external or internal perturbations. Because the history of 
the earth consists of long periods of geological and climatological 
stability interspersed with much shorter episodes of relatively rapid 
change, at most times the major physical and chemical parameters of 
the biosphere have been relatively unchanging, and nature appears to 
have been relatively stable. This appearance is deceptive, however, for 
natural undisturbed systems can be observed to change even on 
human time scales. 

If we could watch for a long time a bare boulder that had rolled 
down from a mountain peak to the valley below, we would see regular 
changes occurring. Devoid of life at first, the boulder would eventually be 
colonized by lichen. Aided by such mechanical processes as weathering, 
the lichen would change the chemical composition of the rocks surface 
until moss could grow in one or two areas. After many years, the moss 
would have created conditions that enabled other plants to grow, and 
insects as well as microorganisms of various kinds would have long since 
found a home on the boulder. After many more years, large areas of the 
boulder would have been transformed by this biological activity, and one 
day a pine seed would be able to take root in the newly created soil. By 
this time, many of the early inhabitants of the boulder would have been 
displaced: The “pioneer” species that created conditions favorable for 
other types of organisms thus did themselves out of home and job. 
During the pine s growth, it would further transform the boulder, per- 
haps splitting it into smaller fragments. Thus through a combination of 
physical and biological processes, a large, hard piece of rock was trans- 
formed into life-supporting soil. Ecologists refer to such transformations 
of a habitat as ecological succession. 

This brief and simple example illustrates a number of important 
ecological principles. As we stated earlier, living things do not merely 
adjust to their environment, they modify it. And lichens and mosses 
repeat on a much smaller scale the task performed in the primitive oceans 
by the microscopic creatures that created the atmosphere as we know it. 

The Science of Ecology 


Ecological succession moves nature from non-life to life and from simple 
life forms and communities to more complex and diversified ones that 
exhibit a higher degree of negentropy, or biophysical organization. 

The second law of thermodynamics, one of the fundamental physical 
principles of the universe, tells us that entropy, or disorder, always tends to 
increase, impelling all systems toward a state of uniform, random chaos. 
What, then, accounts for evolution and ecological succession, for the 
incredible negentropic diversity and order of nature? 

The answer lies in the capacity of life to trap the energy of the sun 
and perform work that decreases entropy before the energy is degraded 
to dispersed, random heat. Why life exists at all remains a mystery; yet the 
existence of life is a fact, and once it gets started, the nature of the 
transformations it causes is quite clear. 

By studying the orderly succession of plant and animal communities 
in diverse habitats, ecologists have derived the dynamics of the process. 
An abiotic environment is colonized, and an extremely simple ecosystem 
characteristic of a young or pioneer stage of succession is created. 
Gradually the first colonizers transform the environment, until a slightly 
more complex pioneer ecosystem is established. This in turn creates the 
preconditions for more and more complex ecosystems, until the most 
complex ecosystem the local climate and physical environment are able 
to sustain comes into being. This final stage, which represents the tem- 
porary end of development, is called the climax ecosystem. It will endure 
essentially unchanged as long as it is undisturbed by fire, human interven- 
tion, or other unusual stresses, or until major geological or climatic 
changes cause the process of succession to continue. 

Pioneer and climax ecosystems differ sharply in almost every impor- 
tant attribute by which ecologists describe ecosystems. The essential 
differences are listed in the following table (after E. P. Odum 1971). This 
table can be summarized by saying that in creating a more complex and 
diversified ecosystem, nature replaces opportunistic species with more 
established species. Plants characteristic of pioneer stages (like weeds, 
which epitomize pioneer species) grow prodigiously, and the amount of 
vegetable matter produced, compared to the total amount of the biomass, 
is very large. In mature stages, plants grow much more slowly and have 
longer lives; although total productivity (that is, photosynthesis) is actually 
higher in mature stages, net community production (annual “yield”) is 
lower than in the pioneer stages, because energy is invested not in a new 
“crop” but in the maintenance and the slow, organic growth of the 
already existing biomass. Thus, whereas in the pioneer stage energy is 
used in a fairly straightforward way to grow more plants, so that a 
relatively empty habitat can be populated, in the mature system the 



greater part of the energy is used to enhance the persistence of the 
existing community, which already occupies all the territory available. 

Humans , the Breakers of Climaxes 

Where do humans fit into this scheme? Unfortunately, ever since they 
acquired technology in the form of fire, humans have disrupted ecologi- 
cal succession and climax communities. Humans have lived as breakers of 
climaxes, which contain the stored wealth of the ages in their plants, 
animals, and soil. Instead of living on the income (the production) of the 
biological capital inherited by the species that populate such ecosystems, 
humans have invaded the capital itself. One of the first and most impor- 
tant human interventions was the use of fire: Early humans found that 
burned-over areas produced a new growth of succulent grass that at- 
tracted an abundance of game. However, the agricultural revolution 
resulted in the greatest simplification of natural ecosystems, as described 
by the cultural ecologist Roy Rappaport: 

Man’s favored cultigens...are seldom if ever notable for hardiness and 
self-sufficiency. Some are ill-adapted to their surroundings, some cannot 
even propagate themselves without assistance and some are able to survive 
only if they are constantly protected from the competition of the natural 
pioneers that promptly invade the simplified ecosystems man has con- 
structed. Indeed, in man’s quest for higher plant yields he has devised some 
of the most delicate and unstable ecosystems ever to have appeared on the 

Relatively inefficient use of energy 
Low degree of order (high entropy) 

Pioneer State 

Few species 

One or few species dominate 
Quantity growth 
Few symbioses 
Short, simple life cycles 

Mineral cycles relatively open 
and linear 

Rapid growth 

Climax State 

Many species 

Relative equality of species 

Quality growth 

Many symbioses 

Long, complex life cycles 

Mineral cycles circular and 

Feedback control/homeo- 

Efficient use of energy 

High degree of structured, 
complex order (negentropy) 

The Science of Ecology 


face of the earth. The ultimate in human-dominated associations are fields 
planted in one high-yielding variety of a single species. It is apparent that 
in the ecosystems dominated by man the trend of what can be called 
successive anthropocentric stages is exactly the reverse of the trend in 
natural ecosystems. The anthropocentric trend is in the direction of 
simplicity rather than complexity, of fragility rather than stability (1971, p. 

It is not cultivation alone that simplifies ecosystems. The sheep 
rancher does not want bison eating the grass that could be used to feed 
more sheep, so the bison must go. So must the mountain lion, the wolf, 
the coyote, the eagle, and any other predator that might cut into produc- 
tion. Ecological poisons such as DDT and radiation also simplify ecosys- 
tems, because they tend to kill the organisms high on the food chain, 
leaving behind large numbers of a few resistant species.* Overfishing and 
overhunting have the same effect. So does nearly every form of human 
activity. The dilemma is clear. Humans must have productive ecosystems 
in order to survive, but high productivity requires simple and even 
dangerously fragile ecosystems. Further, since the biosphere is highly 
intergrated, other ecosystems are also simplified, natural cycles disrupted, 
materials lost, and the whole system of the biosphere rendered less stable. 
If every forest is cut down, what will perform the forests’ flood-retaining 
and oxygen-making functions? If all marshes and estuaries along our 
shores are developed, because that is the most “productive” use for them, 
what will take the place of the oxygen-producing plankton supported by 
the large quantities of organic matter washed by the tides from estuaries 
to the continental shelves? And what will replace the fish that depend on 

In short, humans do not live by food and fiber alone. However, 
although maximization of production as we have traditionally defined it 
would totally compromise our life-support system, discreet cropping of 
climax ecosystems is possible only in the hunting-gathering mode of 
human existence. Humans in a technological society must therefore 
strike a balance between production from their environment and protec- 
tion of their environment. Stated another way, humans must be prepared 
to optimize their level of production, taking into consideration the 
contribution of nonproductive elements of nature, such as wilderness, to 

* One goal of current biotechnological research is to breed crops immune to 
poisons so that farmers can apply broad-spectrum sprays and kill all life, except 
for the immune crop, in their fields ( The Washington Post, May 17,1988, p. 



their well-being. The maximization of productivity, as narrowly defined 
by economists, is eventually fatal for the system as a whole. A fundamental 
principle of human ecology thus emerges: “The optimum for quality is 
always less than the maximum quantity that can be sustained” (E. P. 
Odum 1971, p. 510). 

Variability of the Climax 

Even in areas where climate and other general factors are the same, 
microclimates and habitats differ as a result of local variations in topog- 
raphy and soil composition: Some low-lying areas are boggy, some are on 
higher-than-average ground, some get more sunlight or are more ex- 
posed to wind. In accordance with these variations in microclimate and 
habitat, species are unevenly distributed. We therefore find not one 
uniform climax everywhere, but a general climax state (sometimes called 
a polyclimax) that is a mosaic of a large number of “edaphic” climaxes, 
adaptations of the basic climax to special local conditions. Thus even 
within the overall biogeochemical determinism of nature, there is a 
surprising degree of pluralism. 

Sometimes ecosystems never attain the true climax state. Areas that 
are subjected to periodic natural stresses, such as fire inundation or 
frequent hurricanes, may never reach the climax state that is theoretically 
attainable. Instead, the community adapts to the stress and displays what is 
known as a cyclic climax. Again, special local conditions overrule the 
general direction of nature. 

In some cases humans are a source of stress, and the result is called an 
anthropogenic subclimax. Many grasslands, for example, were produced 
by deliberate burning and are thus an anthropogenic subclimax. Asian 
paddy land, which has been cultivated for millennia, is another human- 
made subclimax, one that mimics a natural marsh. Anthropogenic sub- 
climaxes are inevitably less natural than the true climax, but the best of 
them attain quite high levels of maturity and yet also furnish humans 
quite a high yield of useful products. Even today, some productive areas of 
the English countryside are at this high level of ecological maturity. 
Unfortunately, this type of subclimax is rare compared to those sub- 
climaxes, such as once-fertile lands turned into desert, that result from 
humanity’s destruction of habitat. 

Exploiting Ecosystems for Production 

The likelihood that an anthropogenic climax will succeed depends on 
local conditions. Intensive agriculture of the kind we practice drives our 

The Science of Ecology 


fields back to the pioneer stage, where our cultigens, which are adapta- 
tions of natural weeds, flourish. In temperate areas, climate, the condition 
of the soil, and the nature of the broken climax all permit this to occur 
without immediately harmful effects, provided that it is done in the right 
way (by not grossly simplifying ecosystems with broad-spectrum insec- 
ticides, by not mining the soil, by minimizing monocultures, and so on). 

Intensive agricultural exploitation of mature tropical ecosystems, on 
the other hand, can produce total collapse. For example, in a tropical rain 
forest, almost all the nutrients are tied up in the biomass; very few are 
contained in the soil. Thus when a plot of forest is cleared for cultivation, 
much of the ecosystem s biological capital is hauled away to lumber mills 
(or worse, burned) and so is lost to that ecosystem. Most of the animals 
flee to still-undisturbed areas, dispersing another portion of the biological 
capital. At most a few years (typically four or five) of profitable exploita- 
tion are possible before rain leaches out the remaining nutrients and the 
sun bakes the resulting clay into concrete. As a result of ill-advised 
exploitation, this highly diverse, mature, and stable ecosystem may now 
be an essentially abiotic (lifeless) environment.* Moreover, because the 
soil is no longer stabilized by plants, the heavy rains cause accelerated 
erosion, which can effectively prevent life from making a significant 
comeback for many generations, if ever. (The erosion also disrupts the 
dynamics of the river ecosystems into which the soil may be washed). 
Thus ancient and apparently stable ecosystems (for example, the Amazon 
basin forests) are paradoxically quite vulnerable to human intervention, 
for they can be driven by overexploitation to the point of total and 
irreversible collapse. And what is lost is not merely future production but 
all the invisible contributions such forests make to the general health of 
the biosphere. Hence, in addition to the local trade-off between produc- 
tion and protection, humans must confront this kind of global ecological 
paradox in an era when demands for food are rising, in the tropics above 

Ecologists propose a basic agricultural strategy reflecting the fact that 
the safest landscape is one that contains all the variety of nature — crops, 
forests, lakes, marshes, and so forth — as well as a mixture of communities 
of different ecological ages. (They point out that this would also be the 
most pleasant landscape to inhabit.) Margalef (1968, p. 49) calls for a 
“balanced mosaic, or rather a honeycomb, of exploited and protected 
areas” — in short, compartmentalization. 

* According to the World Resources Institute, 40 to 50 million acres of tropical 
forest are being destroyed each year. (1990-91, p. 102). 




Some Consequences of Destroying 
Tropical Forests 

The destruction of tropical forests may be bringing about a new age of 
extinction, similar to the Cretaceous Period some 65 million years ago. 
For example, only 1% of Brazil’s Adantic forests remain; apart from un- 
known numbers of plants species found nowhere else, they are the only 
home of 20 species and subspecies of monkeys, about 10% of the 
worlds total. Some of these are in immediate danger of extinction. 
Likewise, only 10% of Madagascar is still covered with natural vegeta- 
tion, and 7000 species of plants exist nowhere else in the world. The 
same is true of lemurs, a major group of primates. Worldwide, 2 or 3 
species are becoming extinct each day. Adi of this is not merely of aes- 
thetic or ethical interest. Wild plants often interbreed with humanity’s 
cultivated crops, making the crops stronger or more resistant to disease. 
One-fourth of our medicines come from chemicals found in plants. 

And five-sixths of the estimated number of plants species in the world 
are still unknown and unclassified by the world’s biologists. Most of 
these are in the tropics. 

Tropical forest destruction also affects humans directly. At one time, 
3 to 6 million people lived — sustainably — in the Amazon rain forests; 
today only 500,000 people remain. Needless to say, the people burning 
the rain forests — cattle ranchers and peasants — are not the same people 
whose habitats and lives are being wiped out. 

Another solution is the development and utilization of compromise 
ecosystems; these are essentially “good” anthropogenic subclimaxes, sys- 
tems that combine the virtues of production and protection. Rice pad- 
dies and fish ponds, which are cultivated analogues of natural marshes and 
estuaries, are examples of successful compromise ecosystems. Such 
ecosystems are highly productive and more could be developed, especial- 
ly in the tropics. Detritus agriculture (mushrooms) and pisciculture (the 
breeding, rearing, and transplantation of fish, as in carp ponds) also offer 
opportunities for the invention of productive compromise systems. Yet 
another kind of compromise is tree cropping for food, especially in 
tropical areas, where it has long been practiced (though not always wisely) 

The Science of Ecology 


for cash crops such as coffee and cocoa. Also, native tropical gardening 
techniques are ecologically very sophisticated, and research might dis- 
close ways to make them more productive. 

The basic strategy of all these compromise systems is to study the 
nature of the climax and then, instead of breaking it completely, to mimic 
it closely or to insert humans into the process as careful parasites that 
preserve the host while siphoning off as much food as possible. However, 
compromise systems will not work everywhere. Some ecosystems are too 
vulnerable or difficult to manage. Furthermore, the productivity of many 
compromise systems is not high enough to feed great masses of people 
living in cities. Thus for large parts of the globe, we must a ttempt to strike 
a balance between production and protection by comprehensive zoning, 
retaining some areas as a source of biological capital from which we draw 
interest in the form of security and well-being, while subjecting other 
areas to intensive (but, one hopes, less destructive) cultivation in order to 
obtain the food and fiber a large population needs. (Ecologists generally 
insist that the oceans must remain essentially protected areas; rational 
cropping of naturally occurring fish, and compromise systems of maricul- 
ture, such as the growing of oysters, are all that we should expect from the 
oceans if we wish to avoid the risks that would be involved in exploiting 
this crucial regulator of natural cycles.) 

In general, then, ecologists urge a move toward an overall global 
anthropogenic subclimax that would give the optimal trade-ofF between 
production and protection, as well as a considerable degree of amenity in 
the form of a varied and pleasant landscape. Ecological succession 
provides a model for the transformation of our agriculture: from rapid- 
growth, high-production, pioneering stages to a relatively stable and 
mature subclimax that is optimal considering all of our needs and that is 

* As the drawbacks of modem industrial-intensive agriculture have become 
more and more apparent, particularly as a means of increasing food production 
in tropical areas, agronomists and ecologists have rediscovered some of the 
virtues of traditional agriculture. Though unproductive in terms of the market 
economy, many old agricultural practices turn out to be superior in terms of 
productivity per acre as a function of energy input and long-term environmental 
compatibility (Armillas 1971, Rappaport 1971, Thurston 1969). Moreover, as 
we will note in the next chapter, traditional agriculture, when modified by 
modem organic farming techniques, can be productive in terms of the market 
economy. Even in an advanced country like the United States, organic farming 
was found to be competitive with industrial-intensive agriculture (National 
Research Council 1989). 



characterized by constructive symbiosis rather than warfare between 
humans and nature. 

Life Is Energy 

Whether an ecologically optimal agriculture will also serve to feed large 
numbers of people will depend largely on how well it adapts itself to the 
character of the energy flows that make the economy of nature operate. 
Energy is the currency of nature s economy; the biomass and stock of 
materials are its inventory or capital. Natural systems trap incoming solar 
energy and make use of it for production; the more mature the ecosys- 
tem, the more efficiently this energy is utilized and the more is produced. 
Thus energy determines productivity. This seems paradoxical. If our 
ecologically immature agricultural systems are so inefficient in terms of 
energy use, why are they so productive? Part of the reason is that our 
cultigens are domesticated weeds, adapted by nature and then by us for 
rapid growth, which gives a high yield when cropped. Moreover, the total 
amount of radiation is so large and the total area in production is so vast 
that enormous quantities are produced despite the inefficiency of the 
process. However, to answer this question fully, it is necessary to look at 
the energetics of food chains and at the concept of energy subsidy in 

An examination of food chains soon reveals that very large numbers 
of producers are required to maintain a much smaller number of her- 
bivores, which in turn maintain a still smaller number of carnivores. There 
are several reasons for this, but the principal one is the loss of energy in 
food chains due to the tendency of energy to degrade into nonuseful 
forms, as ordained by the second law of thermodynamics. Natural proces- 
ses are typically of rather low thermodynamic efficiency from a mechani- 
cal engineers point of view. Photosynthesis, for example, is only about 1% 
efficient in terms of energy fixation or the amount of protoplasm created 
by producers in proportion to incoming solar radiation. * Also, producers 
have a high metabolic rate, so they tend to burn up a lot of what they 
produce just to stay alive, and herbivores consume energy maintaining 
themselves and grazing the producers. Thus, at each step in the food 
chain, energy dribbles away in the form of waste and heat. In the typical 

* This is not so inefficient as it might seem. Remember that enormous 
quantities of solar energy are used to warm the globe, evaporate water, blow 
clouds around, and do all the things that keep natural cycles going. To use 
ecological language, most of the incoming energy is used for maintenance. 

The Science of Ecology 


food chain, the energy available declines by a factor of ten at each trophic 
(feeding) level, although the ratio can vary. Thus the efficiency of agricul- 
ture in feeding people depends a great deal on where food is taken from 
the chain. When cereal is fed to pigs or cows raised for human consump- 
rion, only about a tenth as many people can be fed as when humans 
themselves live as cereal and vegetable eaters. There is thus a trade-off in 
agriculture between the quantity and the “quality” of our diet. Low at 
best, the efficiency of agriculture in supporting human beings is even 
lower if they wish to eat high off the hog. * 

However, the crucial factor in agricultural productivity is the amount 
of energy subsidy that humans provide to crops. Natural energy subsidies 
exist, such as the tidal flushing that brings nutrients to estuaries. But 
energy subsidy is largely the work of humans, often unintentional and 
unwelcome, such as the eutrophication of a lake), but more often 
deliberate. All agriculture, no matter how primitive, depends on an input 
of energy m the form of labor or materials. In traditional agricultural 
systems, this subsidy primarily takes the form of human labor, with some 
help from draft animals. The total amount of the subsidy is typically rather 
small compared to the yield (returns of up to 50 to 1 are possible, 
although 15 to 1 is more common). However, gross productivity is often 
(but not always) comparatively low. By contrast, modern technological 
agriculture is quite productive but not very efficient, for it is little more 
than a biological machine for turning fuels into food. In fact, when all the 
subsidies supporting industrial agriculture are taken into account, it 
clearly spends more energy than it produces; in other words, the energy 
yield of industrial agriculture is negative. 

The dependence of industrial agriculture on energy has important 
implications. The United States produces about threetimes as much food 
perjrectare as India, but this increased production requires ten times the 
input of energy. (The comparison is conservative if anything, because the 
hotter the environment, the higher the metabolic rate and thus the 
energy loss of a plant. All other factors being equal, temperate zones 
produce higher yields than tropical zones.) This gives some insight into 
the problems of raising agricultural productivity in developing areas. For 
them to achieve anything like the productivity enjoyed by the developed 

* If the world’s food supply were distributed equally, and it were consumed in 
the form of grain, enough food exists for 6 billion people to be fed an adequate 
diet. On the other hand, only 4 billion people can be adequately fed if 10% of 
their calone intake is from animal sources, and only 2.5 billion people can be fed 
if 30% of their calorie intake is from animal sources (Corson, 1990, p. 73). 



temperate zones, the energy subsidy must be increased at least ten times. 
In the final analysis, food, like every other aspect of life, is a matter of 

The Essential Message of Ecology 

To recapitulate, although it is possible in principle to exploit nature 
rationally and reasonably for human ends, humans have not done so. 
Because they have not been content with the portion naturally allotted 
them, humans have invaded the biological and ecological capital built up 
over evolutionary time. Moreover, as a result of human ignorance of 
nature’s workings, they have done so in a peculiarly destructive fashion. 
With our new ecological understanding, we can see that linear, single- 
purpose exploitation of nature is not in harmony with the patterns in the 
biosphere and must be abandoned. Instead, we must learn to work with 
nature and to accept the basic ecological trade-offs between protection 
and production, optimum and maximum, quality and quantity. This will 
require major changes in our lives, for the essential message of ecology is 
limitation: There is only so much the biosphere can take and only so much 
it can give, and this may be less than we want. In the next chapter, we shall 
explore the consequences for human action that follow inescapably from 
the existence of fundamental biospheric limits. 

Population, Food, Mineral 
Resources, and Energy 

In the last three centuries, human beings, by invading the biological 
capital built up over the course of evolution, have created economic 
wealth for unprecedented numbers of people. In the last four decades, the 
additional wealth created in each decade on the average equalled that 
added between the beginning of civilization and 1950 (Brown 1990, 
1990b, p. 3)! Yet during the past 20 years, studies based on computer 
projections of trends in resource use, environmental impacts, and popula- 
tion growth have shown that the growth in wealth has started to 
decelerate. The studies differ in detail, but all agree that population and 
material growth cannot continue indefinitely on a finite planet. All agree 
that environmental, population, and resource stresses are being inflicted 
on us now, they disagree only on how drastically and how soon we must 
respond in order to avert human disaster. The Club of Rome study 
reported in The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972) appeared to 
show that an immediate rather than an eventual transition to the 
steady state was necessary and that the actions required to cope with 
the problems of transition violated both conventional wisdom and our 
current values. More important, this was the first study of a holistic 
nature. Past ecological warnings had tended to focus on or become 
identified with one particular limit to growth, such as pollution 
(Carson 1962) or population (Ehrlich 1968). They were therefore 
vulnerable to the counterargument that the problem could be solved 
by using resources from other sectors. What The Limits to Growth 




purported to show, by identifying all the important relationships 
among various sectors and linking them in a computer model de- 
signed to reveal the resultant of all these interactions, was that this 
strategy of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul would not work much 
longer. The Global 2000 Report to the President, published in 1980, used 
a similar approach and came to the same conclusion. 

Paradoxically, however, these studies tended to intensify debate about 
particular limits to growth, for the critics charged that they were based on 
excessively Malthusian and pessimistic assumptions about many of the 
alleged limits that largely determined their outcomes. It was asserted that 
with more “reasonable” or optimistic assumptions about population 
dynamics, resource availability, pollution-control technology, and the like, 
quite different conclusions could be reached. In the United States, a new 
administration characterized The Global 2000 Report as projecting “doom 
and gloom” and cut the budgets of the agencies that had prepared it. Not 
surprisingly, however, budget cutting did not make the problems cited in 
the report go away. The World Resources Institute report, Tl\e Global 
Possible , published in 1985, reiterated the major trends found in The 
Global 2000 Report and suggested priorities for action in such areas as 
curbing population growth rates, reducing poverty, protecting forests and 
other habitats, and curbing pollution. So did Our Common Future, com- 
missioned by the United Nations, World Commission on Environment 
and Development (1987). Moreover, every year since 1984, the 

Maturity or 
steady state 

FIGURE 2-1 The logistic curve, or sigmoid curve, and its features. Because 
humanity lives on a planet endowed with finite resources, it is certain that, like 
every living population and process, it must obey the law of growth depicted 
by a sigmoid curve. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


Worldwatch Institute has issued an annual report on The State of the World . 
Year after year, it has recorded the continuing deterioration of the earth s 
physical condition and the threat that this deterioration is becoming 
unmanageable, leading to economic decline and social disruption. 

What follows is a synoptic review of the various limits (primarily but 
not exclusively physical) that have been identified by qualified specialists. 
The argument makes four general points: (1) There are indeed 
demonstrable limits to the demands humanity can place on its environ- 
ment. (2) Although technology can help us “juggle” limits in accordance 
with human preferences, outright repeal of the limits is impossible. (3) 
Manipulating the limits technologically entails costs that we may not be 
able, or wish, to bear. (4) Time is of the essence if we wish to cope with 
limits effectively and humanely. In sum, an era of ecological scarcity has 
dawned. The argument focuses on a few key factors, such as pollution, 
that are truly critical for the system as a whole, and it makes as explicit as 
possible the interactions among separate limits, for ecological scarcity is 
not simply a series of discrete problems. It is an ensemble of problems and 
their interactions — a “problematique” — and can be understood in no 
other fashion. 

German woman American woman African woman 


Number of offspring in three generations. 



Population and Food 

No aspect of ecological scarcity has received more attention over a long 
period than the “population explosion.” The primordial limit on popula- 
tion is food, so let us consider the supply of arable land and other basic 
factors: water, the state of agricultural technology, and above all the costs 
and consequences of feeding people — especially the large numbers of 
additional people who will be born in the decades to come — to see how 
many human beings the earth can reasonably support. 



FIGURE 2-3 It took from the beginning of time to about the year 1810 
for the human population to reach 1 billion people. Just over 100 years later, 
the next billion people were added. By 1987 the earth was home to 5 billion 
human beings. Currently, population is growing by more than 93 million each 
year. Human numbers are projected to exceed 6 billion before the year 2000, 
and unless the availability and use of contraceptives increase dramatically, the 
human population could reach 1 4 billion by the end of the next century. 

Billions of People 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


The Inevitability o f More People 

In 1977, when the first edition of this book was written, approximate- 
ly 4 billion people inhabited the earth. In 1990 the figure had risen to 
5.2 billion. The population of the earth is exploding. 10,000 people 
are added to the earth every hour, 240,000 every day, about t million 
every 4 days . 

If the current rate of world population growth continues, there will 
be 10 billion people on the globe by 2025 and 16 billion by 2100 (Haub 
1988). Of course, these projections are only as good as the assumptions 
on which they are based. The United Nations Population Fund projec- 
tions assume that human fertility will decline to replacement levels by 
the middle of the tweny-first century and that world population will 
stabilize at about 14 billion people by 2100. That number could go 
higher or lower, depending on the extent of birth control use within the 
next few decades. Even so, most experts regard a world population of 12 
to 16 billion people as foreordained. * 

The primary reason for this inevitability is the phenomenon of 
demographic momentum. For example, even though the United States 
attained replacement-level fertility in the 1970s, the population still 
grew. In fact, assuming that we maintained a fertility rate of 1.8, the level 
achieved in the 1970s, the population would continue to grow from its 
current 215 million to at least 292 million in 2080. This is because rapid 
growth in decades past has bequeathed us a young population — that is, a 
population distribution with disproportionate numbers of young people 
who have yet to replace themselves. Thus, even assuming a constant low 
fertility rate, the U.S. birthrate would continue to exceed the death rate 
for many more years. 

But the United States has not maintained the fertility levels of the 
1970s. In 1990 the fertility level had reached 2.0 and had not yet peaked. 
If the fertility rate went as high as 2.2, as the Census Bureau assumes in 
its high-fertility ’ projections, the United States population would reach 
not 292 million but 421 million by 2080, and it would increase by 20 
million people per decade after that. Even these numbers might be too 
low. This would be especially true if life spans were extended, as some 

* The staggering magnitude of “billions” is often not appreciated. The 
mathematician John Allen Paulos brings home the reality of these numbers by 
asking audiences how long it will take for a million seconds to pass. The correct 
answer, he tells them, is about 1 1.5 days. He then asks how long it will take to 
get to a billion seconds? The correct answer is 32 years. 



medical scientists hope, for then the death rate might remain below the 
birth rate for additional years before growth ceased. 

Of course, the U.S. population problem is of trivial dimensions 
compared to that of underdeveloped countries, where a replacement 
level of fertility is far from being achieved. Most have population growth 
rates of about 2.1% per annum, resulting in truly explosive growth — a 
doubling every 33 years. Many hope that such rapid growth is a tem- 
porary phase and that the so-called demographic transition (a drop in 
fertility in response to lowered death rates and economic improvement, 
similar to that experienced by the now-rich countries in the course of 
their development) will begin to slow the population explosion. How- 
ever, the last 20 years have produced little evidence for such demographic 
transition. A few countries have lowered their birthrates with little 
industrial development (Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, and China); other 


Halting Population Growth 

Halting population growth in the developing world is a monumental 
task. The average family size in these nations is now 4.8 children. Be- 
cause these countries have large numbers of young people, family size 
must drop below replacement levels (that is, to fewer than 2 children) 
and must remain there for some time. Only China has approached this 
goal, and that by coerced draconian measures. 

The obstacles are many. Children are valued for important 
economic reasons in developing countries: to work in the fields and to 
support parents in their old age. High fertility is considered both a 
mark of virtue and proof of a mans virility. Women in most places are 
uneducated and lack equal rights. There is some evidence that where 
women gain education and equal rights, they concentrate on improv- 
ing the health and sanitation of their homes and become receptive to 
contraception. This occurs because their children are more likely to sur- 
vive and because they gain sources of status other than children. Al- 
though such signs are encouraging, women are only slowly becoming 
educated or achieving equal rights, and, when they do, there is no 
evidence that most will voluntarily reduce their family size below re- 
placement levels. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


countries failed to lower their birthrates despite some industrial develop- 
ment (Brazil and Mexico). Also, statisticians have found litde connection 
between GNP and lowered birthrates in developing countries. Although 
a demographic transition might yet develop in some countries, most 
developing countries are growing as rapidly as ever. It seems likely, in the 
absence of catastrophic famine, disease, or other Malthusian checks, that 
demographic momentum in countries with extremely young popula- 
tions virtually guarantees a world population of 12 to 15 billion within 
the period 2040-2070. Can w*e feed this many people? 

How Many Can Be Fed? 

A number of studies have tried to establish how many people the earth 
can support. One concludes that w r e could feed a w 7 orld population of 50 
billion. But to arrive at this figure, a number of totally unrealistic assump- 
tions are needed. First, all potentially arable land, regardless of fertility or 
suitability,w T ould have to be dedicated to food production. Humans could 
inhabit only wasteland totally unsuited to agriculture; suburbs and cities 
w 7 ould have to be uprooted and turned into farmland; the bulk of the 
population w r ould perforce be housed in Arctic regions; and so forth. 
Second, all land, even infertile land that had been pressed into production, 
w r ould have to yield food at a level of production that has not been 
attained on our most fertile soil with the best means of wfrich we are 
capable — in other w 7 ords, a level that plant physiologists dream about but 
that has no real prospect of being achieved outside a laboratory. Third, all 
the possible side effects of intensively farming every conceivable acre at 
the highest technological level must be ignored, including the pollution 
caused by fertilizer runoff, the enormous flow 7 of energy required for 
such colossal and high-technology agriculture, the climatic effects of 
turning all forests into farmland, the enormous demand on w 7 ater resour- 
ces, and so forth. Thus that 57 billion is an optimistic limit based purely 
on the potentiality of plant physiology, not on the realities of agriculture. 

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) published a study in 
1983 that made more realistic assumptions about land use, soil quality, 
w’ater supply, and the application of agricultural inputs (basic fertilizers, 
simple conservation measures, improved plant varieties, and so on). It 
projected that most countries of Asia and South America could feed then- 
populations in the year 2000 from their own cultivated lands, w r hereas 
most African and Middle Eastern countries could not. But even this study 
w T as optimistic, because it assumed that all cultivable land wx>uld be 
brought into production, that the land wrould be used to grow 7 only food 
crops, and that the food w 7 ould be distributed fairly to all economic 



groups. In reality, world grain output per person has declined since 1984. 
In Africa and Latin America, the food produced per person has declined 
dramatically in the past decade, and those regions, as well as Asia, began 
the period with high rates of malnutrition (see Table 2-1). Presently, 
one-fifth of the world s population does not consume enough calories to 
lead an active working life. Even worse, 40 to 60 million people die in 
developing countries each year from hunger and diseases related to 
hunger. The nutritional shortfall worldwide is such that even with per- 
fectly equal distribution of the current world food production (theoreti- 
cally possible but politically inconceivable), everyone would be some- 
what malnourished. Thus we do not really provide for even the existing 
5.2 billion human beings (see Box 4). 

Recent developments in agricultural technology (the so-called 
Green Revolution) now being applied to underdeveloped countries have 
averted a catastrophic global famine thus far. But the Green Revolution 
is not immune to drought (a perennial problem in many less developed 
countries) and as we shall see, it may have achieved the maximum 
agricultural productivity of which it is capable in many parts of the world. 
Besides, as even its proponents admit, the Green Revolution cannot solve 
the problem of overpopulation; it simply buys us some time to bring 
population growth under control. Moreover, the world already confronts 
severe ecological problems because of its current mode of agricultural 
production, and the Green Revolution intensifies these problems. (It also 
has a number of painful social side effects — for example, making poor 
farmers worse off while making rich farmers better off.) Thus the time 

TABLE 2-1 Decline in Annual Grain Production Per Person 
in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, Peak Year and 1990 

Year of 
Peak Pro- 

Kg Per 
Person in 
Peak Year 

Kg Per 
in 1990 



Percent Mal- 












- 4 








Source: Brown 1991, p. 13; WRI 1990, p. 87. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 



A Mere Distribution Problem? 

In discussing world hunger, some claim that there is no population 
problem, only a food distribution problem. But this statement is mis- 
leading. If food were distributed equally, and everyone ate the way 
Americans do, less than half the present world population could be fed 
on the record harvests of 1985 and 1986 (Erlich 1990). Only if food 
were distributed equally and everyone got their needed calories from 
vegetarian sources would the food supply be sufficient to feed 
everyone. If everyone ate like the average Latin American and con- 
sumed a mere 10% of their calories from animal sources, only 4 billion 
people could be fed (Corson 1990, p. 73). 

The average American consumes about 30% of his or her calories 
from animal sources. And there is no indication that many of them are 
ready to stop eating their steaks, cheeses, and chickens to benefit of the 
world’s hungry (assuming that their abstinence would mean more food 
for the hungry). And what if they were willing? World population is in- 
creasing at a rate of 1 million people every 4 days. So at best, a strict 
vegetarian diet by everyone, along with equal distribution of grain, 
would provide a mere temporary respite from the hunger problem. 
Clearly, the urgency of the population problem is merely camouflaged 
by the assertion that it is only a matter of finding more equitable ways 
to distribute food. 

being bought now is at the expense of the future. A more detailed 
examination of the difficulties, dilemmas, and contradictions in current 
and projected agricultural practices will show why feeding adequately 
even double the present number of humans will overstrain the earth s 
ecological and energetic resources to the breaking point and is likely to 
be out of the question. 

The Basic Agricultural Predicament: Limited Land 

The fundamental fact about agriculture is that it requires land, and good 
agricultural land is in diminishing supply First, virtually all good agricul- 



tural land in the world is already in use; it is this good land that provides 
us with almost all our food. The best 50% of the land in use probably 
supplies 80% or more of the total agricultural output. The marginal lands 
now in use thus make only a modest contribution (although it is often 
critical for dietary quality). Second, much of the presently good agricul- 
tural land on the planet is becoming marginal while some marginal 
agricultural land is becoming altogether useless to agriculture. 

There are several reasons for the loss of agricultural land. One is the 
sheer overrunning of agricultural land by population pressures — for the 
homes, industries, and roads that people demand. This is happening 
everywhere, but especially in East Asia, where population pressures claim 
a half-million hectares of agricultural land per year (Brown and Young 
1990, p. 65). 

Another problem is soil erosion. Whereas traditional agriculture 
conserved topsoil by such practices as rotating crops and permitting land 
to remain fallow for periods of years, many farmers today grow the same 
crop each year on the same land. They minimize periods when the land 
is plowed and left “unproductive.” These practices deprive the soil of the 
organic matter it needs to rebuild the soil structure; as a result, some of 
the topsoil is lost to wind and water erosion. One estimate is that 25 
billion more tons of topsoil are lost to erosion each year than are formed, 
resulting in the loss of 9 to 21 million tons of grain production annually 
(Brown and Young 1990, p. 61). 

A third problem is salinization and waterlogging. Salinization occurs 
when land is irrigated. Some of the diverted water evaporates, leaving 
behind minute amounts of salt. Eventually these salts accumulate in the 
top few inches of soil; salts reduce the yields of the crops and ultimately 
kill them. Waterlogging occurs when irrigated lands are not properly 
drained. The water table therefore rises, eventually reaching the root 
zones of the crops. The roots in this water cannot get the oxygen they 
need to survive. Salinization and waterlogging today are serious problems 
that are degrading 24% of the world’s croplands. Each year, 1.1 to 3.6 
million tons of crop output are lost to salinization and waterlogging. 

Finally, deforestation causes the loss of cropland. Seventeen million 
hectares of the earth s tree cover are destroyed each year, an area the size 
of Austria (Brown 1991, p. 7). Some deforestation may produce tem- 
porary gains in croplands, but on the massive scale on which deforestation 
is occurring, it destroys more than it creates. Deforestation increases water 
runoff and affects rainfall cycles and rainfall distribution. It therefore 
causes flooding in some places and desertification in others. The deser- 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


tification brought about by deforestation (and by the overgrazing of 
livestock) affects almost one-third of the earth’s land surface. Desertifica- 
tion results in the loss of 6 million hectares of agricultural land each year.* 
In addition, deforestation indirectly adds to the problem of soil erosion. 
People in deforested areas are forced to burn cow dung and crop residues 
for fuel, thus depriving the soil of fertilizer and organic matter that builds 
up the soil structure and holds it. Putting these and other factors together, 
Lester Brown observes that “each year, the world’s farmers must try to 
feed 88 million more people with 24 billion fewer tons of topsoil” 
(Brown 1989,p.29) 

Although there appears to be other land in the world that could be 
developed, bringing into production any sizable quantity of new land 
would require enormous amounts of capital, vast expenditures of energy, 
and above all, ecological expertise beyond any we now possess. And 
production gains are likely to be ephemeral. The preceding chapter 
addressed the ecological futility of trying to clear and farm tropical forest 
lands. Yet numerous countries are allowing the irreversible destruction of 
tropical forests at a rate of 500,000 trees per hour (Newsweek 1989,p. 59), 
reaping a few years of harvest but leaving a legacy of serious ecological 
problems and potential climatological consequences. Even where the 
soils of forest lands are capable of supporting some kind of more intensive 
cultivation, cutting down forests carries the risks of erosion, flooding, and 
desiccation of climate, the result of ignoring the ecologist’s warning that 
the so-called nonproductive parts of an ecosystem perform invaluable 
protective functions and are vital to production on even the most suitable 

Some novel kinds of ecologically sophisticated exploitation of un- 
used land — tree culture, pisciculture, modernized versions of native gar- 
dening techniques, and so on — can provide a useful supplement (of vital 
protein especially) to a basic cereal diet, but except in a few favored areas, 
they are not the answer to the present and future food needs of humanity. 

* Air pollution, though it does not destroy cropland, also causes crop losses. By 
one estimate, 1 million tons of grain are lost just to ozone pollution each year 
(Brown and Young 1990, p. 63). Other pollution damage to crops, (such as that 
caused by acid rain, rising ultraviolet radiation levels due to the depletion of the 
ozone layer in the stratosphere, and global warming) have not been reliably 
calculated yet. But the evidence suggests that each of these factors will accelerate 
crop losses. 



...And Limited Water 

Irrigation has opened up many arid and semiarid lands to agriculture 
throughout human history. In this century, irrigated land has risen at an 
astonishing rate, from 50 million hectares to 250 million (Postel 1990, p. 40). 
But irrigation also has limits. Since 1978, irrigated area per capita has been 
decreasing worldwide. We have already noted some of the environmental 
costs of irrigation — the intensified erosion, waterlogging, and salinization 
that force some irrigated land out of production. Furthermore, in developed 
countries, irrigated runoff is becoming contaminated with fertilizer and 
pesticide residues, polluting the sources of the irrigated water itself, as well as 
human drinking water. In the United States, over 50 pesticides contaminate 
groundwater in 32 American states (Corson 1990, p. 163). In third- world 
countries, water-development projects have spread disease, destroyed tradi- 
tional agriculture upon which poor people rely, ruined fisheries, and 
destroyed many species by eliminating their habitats. Major outbreaks of 
schistosomiasis have resulted from a parasite that lives in reservoirs and 
irrigation systems. Today at least 200 million people have the disease; another 
600 million are in danger of getting it (Corson 1990, p. 162). Poor people 
who farmed or fished in floodwaters lost their way of life as dams upstream 
stopped the flooding on which they depended. (These dams do not normal- 
ly become substitute fisheries, for their deep waters are usually sterile, 
providing insufficient nutrients for fish). 

The environmental consequences of irrigation projects, however 
serious, are only part of the reason why such projects will be limited in 
the future. Another problem is that both water and irrigable land are 
getting scarce. The cost of irrigation is therefore becoming too expensive 
to justify in many parts of the world. Africa, where food needs are 
greatest, is the worst case; the cost per hectare of irrigating land on that 
continent has risen to between $10,000 and $20,000. This cost is prohibi- 
tive for agriculture, which partially explains why Africa’s irrigated area 
increased by only 5% in the last decade (Postel 1990, p. 42). 

The most fundamental limit on irrigation is the decreasing availa- 
bility of good water. Rivers and lakes worldwide receive enormous 
quantities of industrial discharges, agricultural runoff, and municipal 
sewage. A quarter of the world s population — 1 .2 billion people — do not 
have access to safe drinking water. Because of the scarcity of good water, 
agriculture and growing numbers of people compete for it. In northern 
and eastern Africa, in parts of the Middle East, in China, and even, 
occasionally, in the western United States, where getting usable water is a 
serious problem, growing populations often require that water be shifted 
from agriculture to drinking purposes. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


Water tables are falling in many parts of the world. Indeed, in some 
areas water has already become too expensive to pump, forcing land to be 
abandoned. In many parts of the world, including one-fifth of the 
irrigated area in the United States and large parts of China and India, 
farmers are pumping water out faster than it is being “recharged” — a 
process that cannot continue indefinitely. Gigantic aqueducts to transport 
water very long distances have been built to overcome these shortages. 
Such systems require enormous quantities of energy to build and main- 
tain, and even more grandiose ones are being considered. But realistic 
prospects for major gains in irrigated areas of the world are poor. In 
Thailand, the Philippines, and parts of India, some potential exists for 
enlarging irrigated areas, but in other parts of India, wells are going dry. 
China and the United States have actually declined in irrigated area since 
the 1970s, and because pumping is outpacing replenishment, that decline 
is expected to continue. Even general adoption of drip irrigation and 
other techniques that conserve water (but boost energy costs) will not 
alter this picture substantially. In fact, the proliferation of waterweeds, 
which reduce water flow and increase evaporative loss, more than out- 
paces improvements in water supply in many areas. 

Despite high costs, desalination is a possible answer for some local 
areas, but it requires such great expenditures of energy for production and 
transportation that its widespread use is unlikely. Moreover, the hot brines 
that are an inevitable by-product will create a pollution problem of very 
large dimensions. Such remote possibilities as towing icebergs from the 
Antarctic are occasionally advanced as solutions to this very serious limit 
to growth, but even the most favorable estimates relegate them to a 
minor, local role. It is just barely conceivable, for example, that icebergs 
will one day supply water to the Atacama Desert in California, but the 
ecological, economic, and practical barriers to providing North America 
with agricultural water from this source are immense. 

Finally, global warming may make the problem of limited water even 
more severe. (For a discussion of the physical mechanism of global 
warming, see Chapter 3). One possible effect of global warming will be 
to shift the areas where water is available. Dams, flood control, hydro- 
power, reservoir and other water management projects built where water 
is now available will become less productive or even useless where rainfall 
and snowpack areas have shifted elsewhere. New water management 
projects will need to be built, at enormous cost, in the new wet locales 
that materialize. Global warming is also predicted to increase evapo- 
transpiration in crops. If this occurs, increased irrigation of existing 
irrigated cropland and the irrigation of cropland now rain-fed will be 
required to achieve the same crop productivity. Although a number of 



now-irrigated areas may benefit from increased rainfall levels, some 
scientific models suggest that much of the newly available water may be 
in the form of intensified monsoons. If so, occasional flooding, rather than 
a stable source of soil moisture for crops, will be the result. 

Little Help from the Sea 

Nor can we expect the sea to provide basic subsistence for added billions. 
For one thing, the oceans are for the most part biological deserts. All 
major fisheries depend on the few areas where large quantities of nu- 
trients are brought to the surface by upwelling. For another, experts 
believe that we are already close to the maximum sustainable yield of the 
sea: 100 million tons of fish per year (Corson 1990, p. 142). And even this 
harvest may be unsustainable in the long run. The top millimeter of the 
ocean is critical to its productivity and general ecological health, and we 


Mariculture: A Ray of Hope? 

Although some species are being overfished or are becoming too pol- 
luted to consume, the farming of fish offers an alternative source of 
protein. In 1980, worldwide production of seafood and edible seaweed 
was 8.7 million metric tons, nearly one-eighth of the total harvest of 
such resources. Third- wo rid countries produced 74% of this harvest 
(Corson 1990, p. 148). Aquaculture has the potential for good growth 
in third-world countries, because it is usually labor-intensive and can 
be practiced not only in bays and the sea but in freshwater ponds and 
semi-freshwater estuaries as well. It also can be extremely productive, 
for it is potentially much more efficient than terrestrial agriculture at 
converting solar energy into animal protein. 

However, aquaculture may never realize its full potential. First, it re- 
quires scientific knowledge and capital; the requirements of water 
purity, location, spacing and so on, are extremely demanding; and the 
techniques of managing aquatic ecosystems are intricate. Second, pollu- 
tion and coastal development must be well controlled for mariculture 
to work. So far, unfortunately, such control is weak and is losing ground 
to both pollution and development. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


are polluting it with a multiplicity of land-generated wastes — municipal, 
industrial, and agricultural — as well as with oil and plastics from both 
land and our ships at sea. Much of the increase in fishing since 1983 has 
been of species used to feed animals and to make fish meal, rather than of 
fish which people consume. Yields of some major fisheries have leveled 
off or are declining. Once a fishery collapses, as did the Peruvian anchovy 
and the Alaskan crab fisheries, harvests may never recover to former 
levels. Many species of whales are already “extinct” for practical purposes, 
because for more than a century, the few remaining animals have failed to 
reproduce at a rate adequate to satisfy commercial demand. 

People are also damaging salt marshes, mangroves and coral reefs in 
many parts of the world. Salt marshes and mangroves are temperate and 
tropical wetlands, respectively, and they are far more biologically produc- 
tive than the open ocean. Mangroves, especially, spawn and support 
enormous quantities of finfish and shellfish, and at the same time they 
filter out human-made pollution. But they are being converted to shrimp 
ponds and rice fields, and the salt-tolerant mangrove trees are being cut 
down for building materials and firewood. Coral reefs are starving, and in 
many cases dying, throughout the world (Booth 1990 p. A8). Some die 
because rivers filled with sediment flow into them, preventing sunlight 
from reaching the reefs. Others die because fishers dynamite reefs to kill 
the fish that hide in them. Mine tailings, pesticides, cyanide, and other 
pollutants kill still other reefs. But a new and ominous reason why the 
coral reefs are dying is abnormally warm seas. The 1980s were the 
warmest decade in the last 100 years, and 1990 was the hottest year in 
modern records. The dying of the reefs may be an early biological effect 
of possible global warming. * 

At the same time, in more temperate climates people are destroying 
wetlands for development. Estuaries, where commercially valuable fish 
spend part of their fives, are becoming reservoirs of human contaminants. 
Contrary to a popular assumption, the estuaries into which polluted 
rivers flow do not flush these pollutants out to the sea. Rather, the 

* The destruction of the ozone layer is also affecting the seas in a worrisome 
way. In 1988, an ozone hole over Antarctica resulted in a 15% overall decline in 
ozone levels. Surface phytoplankton levels in that area also decreased by 15 to 
20% (Roberts 1989, p. 288-289). If the decrease in ozone levels caused the 
decrease in phytoplankton, then ozone depletion harms the oceanic food chain. 
In addition, a decrease in phytoplankton decreases the ocean’s ability to absorb 
atmospheric carbon and accelerates global warming. 



pollutants concentrate in the estuaries, endangering marine life and 
making the fish (especially shellfish) dangerous for human consumption. 

National and international efforts have been made to control ocean 
pollution. Certain treaties limit ocean dumping from ships; another gives 
nations control over the seas within 200 miles of their coasts, theoretically 
enabling them to regulate and protect the resources within that territory. The 
United States and some other countries have laws restricting development 
in wedands and protecting clean water. Yet as a whole, these efforts have 
failed. Some nations do not agree to or comply with international controls. 
Many also fail to enforce their clean water laws or adequately fund clean-up 
projects to reverse the pollution from internal sources. In the United States, 
for example, most bays are badly polluted. Americans dumped 3.3 trillion 
gallons of sewage into marine waters in 1980, and since then the amount of 
dumping has increased. Industries add 5 trillion additional gallons of in- 
dustrial waste to domestic waters each year (Corson 1990, p. 146). Urban 
runoff, in the form of solid wastes, lawn pesticides, toxic chemicals, oil, and 
heavy metals, adds billions of gallons more — to say nothing about fertilizers, 
herbicides, and pesticides from agriculture and fallout from atmospheric 
pollutants. All of this occurs in spite of national, state, and local laws enacted 
to deal with the problem. So far efforts to curb overfishing have likewise 
been half-hearted and largely unsuccessful in the United States and 
throughout the world. 

Diminishing Returns from Increased Energy 
Input and Intensification of Agriculture 

Experts agree that the only possible answer to the problem of feeding 
double the present world population lies not in the opening up of new 
frontiers either on the land or in the oceans, but in the preservation and 
more intensive exploitation of lands that are now farmed and that are the 
most suitable for intensive agriculture. Even if we overlook its ecological 
consequences, intensification of production requires a vast input of ener- 
gy. Modern intensive agriculture is essentially a technique for converting 
fossil fuels and minerals into grain and fiber. * From 1950 to 1984, world 

* For example, even though the atmospheric nitrogen for making nitrogenous 
fertilizer is itself free (and essentially inexhaustible), the process of converting it 
into chemical forms that plants can use is costly in terms of materials and energy: 
Every ton of nitrogenous fertilizer requires one ton of steel and five tons of coal 
to manufacture (McHale 1970, p. 12). Some of the minerals essential to 
intensive agriculture may come to be in short supply. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


fertilizer use grew from 14 million tons to 146 million tons, a fivefold 
increase per capita. This increase offset a one-third decline in grain area 
per person (Brown 1989, p. 52). But the rate of increase in fertilizer use 
has declined since 1984. As a result, world grain yield has declined from 
343 kilograms per person in that year to 329 kilograms per person in 
1990 (Brown 1991, p. 13). This is not to say that agricultural production 
declined during those years; it increased. But while grain production 
grew by 1% annually from 1984 to 1990, population grew by 2% (Brown 
1991, p. 14). In addition, the rate of increase in yields of the staple crops 
may have peaked. First, the miracle strains that were the basis of the Green 
Revolution are already in widespread use. Second, some of these miracle 
grains may have reached their biological Emits of productivity. Pace 
yields, for example, have not increased since 1984 (Brown 1991, p. 12). 
When the upper limit of photosynthetic efficiency of a plant is reached, 
further application of fertilizer does not increase yields. In a finite en- 
vironment, all biological processes grow in a manner reflected by an 
S-shaped curve, at the end of which they do not grow further (see Figure 
2 - 1 ). 

Some people hope that biotechnology research will result in 
dramatic increases in world food production. Biotechnologists have al- 
ready achieved some impressive gains. For example, they have produced 
hormones that increase milk production and have developed vaccines 
and drugs to increase livestock productivity. Biotechnology promises to 
create some foods in the laboratory. Biotechnologists may be able to 
breed natural enemies of plant pests or render existing pests harmless. 
They may also be able to breed plants more tolerant of heat, drought, 
frost, pests, and salt. These techniques increase the finite environment for 
the growing of food — in terms of both area and growing season. 
Biotechnology thus may be able to offset the losses of croplands currently 
in use. 

But biotechnological progress in some areas has been controversial or 
slow. Disagreement exists over the safety of foods to which residues of 
hormones or drugs cling. Plant genetics has not been easy to understand. 
Genetic manipulation has had unpredictable results. In the few cases 
where gene transfers have been successfully introduced to crops, it has 
taken as much time to obtain a new variety as conventional breeding 
takes. Furthermore, the biotechnology research agenda so far has been 
dominated by large corporations. Their primary objective has been to 
produce herbicide-resistant crops so that pesticides can be spread per- 
vasively over fields, thereby reducing tillage. This contributes to soil 
erosion and has other dangerous consequences (see Box 6) — and in any 
event does little to help farmers in developing countries, where tilling by 




Agribusiness Biotechnology 

The biotechnology research priority for agribusiness interests is to 
produce herbicide-resistant crops. For example, Calgene CEO, a 
biotechnology company, is testing 1.5 million “transgenic” cotton 
plants in 12 states. (Rauber 1991, p.33) This firm developed transgenic 
cotton to be resistant to the herbicide bromoxynil. Bromoxynil, when 
applied to cotton fields, kills the weeds that compete with cotton. Un- 
fortunately, it also kills the cotton. Rhone-Poulenc, the manufacturer of 
bromoxynil and a major funding source of Calgene s research, expects 
to double its sales of the herbicide if Calgene’s “transgenic cotton” 

Bromoxynil, however, has other dangers. It is extremely toxic to 
fish — a thousand times more toxic than other pesticides that have 
caused massive fish kills. In addition, applying small amounts of the pes- 
ticide to the skin of rats causes deformed offspring. The National 
Wildlife Federation opposed Calgene s testing project, calling it a 
“deadly wrong ... quick fix” (Rauber 1991, p. 34). 

But similar projects abound. The Monsanto Corporation is trying 
to develop cotton plants resistant to Roundup, a broad-spectrum weed 
killer that the EPA regards as a “possible human carcinogen” (quoted 
in Rauber 1991, p. 34). The U.S. Forest Service has spent $2.8 million 
to fund research on herbicide-resistant trees. The U.S. Department of 
Agriculture has begun tests on biotechnology-engineered potatoes that 
are resistant to bromoxynil and to 2,4-D, the active ingredient in Agent 
Orange. The fact that these pesticides are harmful to people and the en- 
vironment does not seem to diminish agribusiness or government inter- 
est in such projects. 

hand is cheaper. Finally, even biotechnology cannot produce plants with 
yields that exceed the limits of photosynthetic efficiency. 

This suggests that the best prospect for increasing food yields is to use 
agricultural inputs more efficiently. Such techniques as drip and interval 
irrigation can both reduce damage to cropland and conserve water. 
Another possibility is for humans to stop deforestation, the overgrazing of 
livestock, and overcultivation in order to prevent desertification. It is also 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


possible to change to organic farming methods, which can reduce energy 
subsidies and conserve soil structure, although these methods may require 
greater labor intensity (one reason for the high yield of Japanese agricul- 
ture is some use of labor-intensive, essentially horticultural farming 
techniques). Biotechnologists can possibly develop pest-resistant or 
nitrogen-fixing plants. Farmers can apply biological controls to pests and 
develop hydroponics to increase agricultural yields. The governments of 
the world can implement land reform to encourage small-scale farming. 
They can also employ controls to prevent agricultural land from being 
turned into homes and factories. People in industrial countries can eat 
less meat, permitting land now used for grazing to be used for farming, 
and make it possible to use grains to feed people rather than animals. 
Mariculture has good potential. In those parts of the world where yields 
are still low (Africa and South America), energy subsidies can still be 
productively applied to increase yields. 

Unfortunately, most of these possibilities are unlikely to be imple- 
mented in a timely way, as we shall see. But if they were applied, along 
with other techniques to improve the efficiency of agricultural produc- 
tion and distribution, some estimate that the earth could probably sup- 
port 8 billion people living on a cereal diet. 

Why Even 8 Billion Cannot Be Fed: Nutritional Limits 

It should be obvious that even this figure, which the population will 
reach in a few years, is an unrealistic, purely theoretical maximum. Arable 
land is not evenly or equitably distributed, and a study by the United 
Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) concludes that desertifica- 
tion, salinization, waterlogging, and erosion may remove as much land 
from production as is added each year (quoted in WRI 1990-91, p. 88). 
Moreover, global calculations of this nature tend to sidestep the problem 
of dietary quality. Humans do not live by the calories in grain alone; they 
must also have protein as well as other dietary supplements to survive. As 
we explained in the last chapter, animal protein can be produced in large 
quantities only by diverting grain from people to animals at a consider- 
able thermodynamic loss: One cow eats for five to ten people. Even 
vegetable protein of the right quality is much harder than mere calories 
to produce in quantity. Soybeans, for example, have so far resisted the best 
efforts of plant geneticists to produce “miracle” strains, and output per 
acre is still low. Global production of root crops has actually been 
declining since 1984 (WRI 1990-91, p. 84). The nutrition problem is 
compounded by the tenacity and nutritional “blindness” of cultural food 
preferences and habits. For example, Balinese regard rice as the only food 



fit for humans, so as population pressure increases, marginal land that 
might reasonably produce something else is unreasonably forced into rice 
production. In addition, humans need fiber and other inedible agricul- 
tural products, so some of the world s arable land must be withheld from 
food production to satisfy these needs. 

...And Ecological Limits: 

Monocultures , Crop Losses, and Pollution 

Even assuming that we can find sufficient energy, at acceptable costs and 
environmental consequences, to surmount the nutrition problem, the 
ecological limits to energy-intensive agriculture will make it unlikely that 
the world can feed 8 billion people. The Green Revolution aims at 
universalizing the methods of temperate-zone industrial agriculture. As 
we saw in the last chapter, these methods are profoundly anti-ecological. 
Moreover, they are particularly unsuited to the tropics (Janzen 1973). 
Some aspects of this issue, such as the side effects of irrigation projects, 
have already been treated in sufficient detail, but the liabilities of 
monoculture and agricultural pollution need to be explored further. 

Even though the practice of monoculture may be justified by 
economic considerations, and an individual farmer can usually get 
away with it most of the time, it is on general principles always 
ecologically unsound. The drive toward total replacement of tradition- 
al crop varieties with genetically uniform cultigens — that is, with the 
so-called miracle strains of the Green Revolution — raises the specter 
of regional monocultures, with every farmer producing exactly the 
same species and variety of inbred (and therefore vulnerable) crop. 
This is an open invitation to pest infestation and areawide plant 
disease, as the Irish potato famine and recent U.S. experiences with 
corn blight have shown. (Nor are crop losses confined to the fields. In 
the tropics, post-harvest losses of up to 30 percent of the stored crop 
occur, and some of the miracle strains seem to be more susceptible to 
storage pests than the traditional varieties.) To make matters worse, in 
order to combat diseases and pests or to increase yields further, plant 
physiologists need genetically diverse raw materials for cross-breeding. 
However, the natural sources of genetic diversity, the many traditional 
varieties typically grown by peasants, are disappearing at an alarming 
rate as farmers everywhere rush to take up modern methods and the 
new genetically uniform strains. Thus the price to be paid for higher 
production will be exactly what the laws of ecology predict, extreme 
instability. (This effect could be worse without the technological 
oversight capacity of the industrial world). 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


TABLE 2-2 Basic Natural Resources Per Person with 
Projected Population Growth 





Percent Decline 
in One Decade 

Grain land 




Irrigated land 




Forest land 




Grazing land 




Source: Adapted from Brown 1991, p. 17. 

The liabilities of using pesticides also must be considered. In the 
United States, agricultural use of pesticides went from 1 million pounds 
per year in the 1950s to 815 million pounds per year in 1987. The 
National Academy of Sciences has concluded that pesticides in common 
American foods may be responsible for as many as 20,000 cancer cases 
annually (Weisskopf 1987, p. A33).* Agricultural pollution is not confined 
to pesticides. Intensified use of fertilizer also has its side effects. To squeeze 
the last increment of possible yield from a crop, fertilizer application must 
be increased disproportionately. However, at more than moderate levels 
of application, much of the fertilizer runs off into the water supply, 
causing eutrophication in lakes and rivers and polluting the groundwater 
supply with nitrates. These nitrates can disable or even kill livestock and 
infants (Corson 1990, p. 164). Moreover, intensification of industrial 
agriculture creates non-farm pollution. For example, animal wastes are 
increasingly serious pollutants now that animals are factory raised. Also, 
fertilizer and other inputs must be manufactured and transported; 
agricultural products must be transported and processed. All of this 

* The report may have underestimated the number of these cancer cases. First, 
it focused on only 28 of the 53 pesticides deemed carcinogenic or potentially 
carcinogenic. Second, it did not consider possible synergistic effects of the many 
pesticides we consume. Third, it did not estimate the effect of pesticides we 
consume in our drinking water (Weisskopf 1987, p. A33). 



generates pollution. Finally, when food is prepared and consumed in the 
cities, an organic-waste disposal problem is created. Just as with every 
industrial process, therefore, pollution is the inevitable concomitant of 
food production; the greater the agricultural production, the greater the 
agriculture-caused pollution we can anticipate. 

Emerging Conflicts over Resources 

To an increasing extent, agriculture is in ecological competition for basic 
resources with its suppliers in the energy, mineral-extraction, and manu- 
facturing industries. For example, every additional mine, fuel-processing 
plant, power plant, factory, and city dweller reduces the amount of water 
available for food production. Also, as populations grow, as urbanization 
increases, and as industry develops, productive farm land is necessarily 
taken over for habitation and other nonagricultural uses. We have already 
noted that in east Asia (including China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea), 
half a million hectares of agricultural land are lost to non-farm uses each 
year. The problem also exists in the United States, with its sprawling 
pattern of land use. Highways and new suburbs eat up more than a 
million acres of prime farmland each year; in another few decades, even 
the United States may no longer have much surplus agricultural capacity. 
Most developing countries do not consume their farmlands at such a rate, 
but the trend is evident there too, and the sad fact is that it may make 
perfect economic sense to take land out of production for so-called 
higher uses, even in a country that suffers from a severe food shortage, just 
as it makes perfect economic sense for Latin American countries to 
export food to the United States despite the fact that 55 million people 
in that region are malnourished. 

The Effects of Weather and Climate on Agriculture 

Weather is a very important ecological constraint on agriculture. Like 
death and other painful realities, the vulnerability of agriculture to the 
vagaries of the weather is simply a brute fact of life on our planet. Yet the 
actual and potential impact of weather on agricultural production is 
rarely taken into sufficient account by the “experts.” For instance, normal 
weather fluctuations alone render absurd any global calculation of how 
many people the earth can support “on the average,” for there is no such 
thing as average weather except in the statistical records. During the 
minor periods of drought that are climatically normal, production can 
easily drop 30 to 40%. In 1987, for example, there was enough food in 
storage to feed the world for 102 days (Brown 1991, p. 15). But in 1988, 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


because of drought conditions in North America, global cereal consump- 
tion far exceeded worldwide production, drawing down world cereal 
stocks to the lowest level of the 1980s (Brown 1991, p. 15). By 1990, 
carryover stocks of food had been reduced to 62 days, 2 days over the 
point at which agriculture prices become extremely volatile and can 
double or more in price within months. If such a drought were to occur 
when food stocks were close to this 60-day “threshold of price in- 
stability,” millions of people now barely surviving could die from spot or 
regional food shortages. Thus, even assuming that we can indeed feed 8 
billion “on the average,” the number that we could expect to keep alive 
over the long term, in good years and bad, might well be less than that. 

The problem goes beyond the year-to-year variations in weather; 
climate changes can also occur. Major volcanic eruptions, although rare, 
can release particulates and gases that block the suns rays and can 
therefore cause declines in crop production. And many manufactured 
pollutants have a similar effect. Of more concern is global warming, 
which will have unpredictable consequences for agriculture. Though 
some crops will grow faster with higher CO 2 levels in their environment, 
and though some may grow in higher latitudes than they can grow in 
today, increased crop yields resulting from these factors could be out- 
weighed by adverse changes elsewhere. For example, global warming 
models predict that moisture levels in mid-level latitudes will decrease. At 
the same time, warmer temperatures require that more water be supplied 
to plants because of higher evapotranspiration rates. Lower crop yields 
may result, therefore, in places such as the United States. Where crops are 
now grown with irrigation or with barely adequate rainfall, changes in 
rain patterns could make it impossible to continue to farm in those areas. 
In tropical latitudes, rainfall changes are expected to shorten the growing 
season, which may also reduce crop yields. 

The regional consequences of global warming under currently un- 
derstood climate models is uncertain at best. But to the extent that global 
warming causes changes in food production in the major food-producing 
areas, it will make it difficult to manage food crises. If global warming, as 
predicted, also decreases agricultural productivity in food-deficit regions, 
famine will result. Basic changes in climatic regime have occurred in the 
past, and even comparatively minor shifts have had major effects on 
agricultural production. 

In sum, the assumption that our weather and climate are constants 
upon which we can rely absolutely is unwarranted. Because normal 
weather fluctuations adversely affect agricultural productivity, a world just 
able to feed a given number of people in “average” years, may be unable 
to feed that number in a “bad” year. Moreover, natural and human 


actrrxnes can cnange tbe repoasfl or global climate. atrectng rhe number 
of re: tie tha: cur re fed over rhe long term. 

V; Tedinok*g*ai Panaceas 

Sureho many wdl] szv technological answers ro most of these problems cun 
re forme Actual . even apar* mom some of rhe general limits ro in- 
definite reermoiopeu innovation ro be considered in rhe next chapter), 
rhe ::m discusser no -eve srromdv segues: mar we (stave aim os: exhausted 
me possfoshties of our currem form of industrial agriculture. If we push 
our re.croojog ro an extreme, we shall mate enormous demands on our 
energ- resources and create senous pol cnon problems. Only a jump ro a 
new level of agricultural technology can aiter this assessment. Unfor- 
tunate]-*. such a new technology is nowhere in sight. 

~Xr -discussed earner the potential Gf biotechnology to improve food 
rronuon. Biotechnology has the potennal of genetscadv altering plants, 
mtroducmg nitrogen dxanon into cereal crops, making crops more pes:- 
resistan: or tolerun: of adverse growmg conditions, and improving 
r noto.~ mrhenc efhaeney Some of these possibilities are more promising 
than others; so fan for example, introducing nitrogen baton into cereal 
crops has been elusive .And some techniques, even if they were to he 
successful mign: have drawbacks Assuming, for example, that biotech- 
noiogisns can increase pbotogynmenr capability m plants, more nutrients 
waUd need to be supphed to the plant. Current agricultural techniques 
cause the loss of topsoil containing these needed nutrients. For this and 
other reasons, nos: experts believe the shift to biotechnology wtH neces- 
sitate me use of much more chemical fertilizer (Russell 1 98“ . which may 
nave unacceptable economic costs m underdeveloped countries and 
unacceptable enrmonrnenia! costs worldwide. Biotechnology can create 
substitute controls on agnrtfrura pests, reducing the need for chemical 
pesticides. Even here, however, risks abound. New' organisms introduced 
into me emuronmeni can themselves become pests: more than 120 
species of intent) onalc* introduced crop plants, for example, have become 
wee i pests in the United States Corson 199 b p. 87y 

In short, ha otecnnolog does nor appear to be a panacea for our food 
t roblem . : mz* increase food tro daemon. bn: by its elf will do so a: some 
cost: higher energ- requirements. lower e col open srabihry, possible side 
effects or pollution, and the hue. More promising would be a shift to 
jiw-mpu: and organic agrichkaare. Low-input techniques take advantage 
of some oi otecnnolog; -such as biolopcal controls of pests and the 
par ting of pes:-resistar : plaets to reduce or eliminate the use of pes- 
ticides. Organic farmers in add: non, recycle animal manures for fertilizer, 

Population. Food. Mineral Resources, and Energy 


rotate crops, plant companion crops, intercrop (plant a row of legumes 
between two rows of, say, wheat; the legume fixes nitrogen for itself and 
the wheat), and engage in conservation tillage to maintain and improve 
soil productivity. Low-input farmers use “ferngarion." the application of 
fertilizer and water around the roots of individual plants, to reduce the 
need for fertilizer and water and also to reduce the pollution caused by 
conventional techniques. Examples of low-input and organic agriculture 
already exist. In China, application of a fungus and parasitic wasp 
achieved 80-90% control of a major corn pest; IPM techniques on cotton 
reduced pesticide use by 90% while cotton yields increased (Corson 
1990, p. 85). A parasitic wasp has controlled the cassava mealybug, which 
was wiping out the cassava plant in Africa. The cassava plant is the 
primary staple of more than 200 million Africans (Postel 1987, p. 37). 

In the United States, some farmers have chosen to go completely 
organic. Eleven cases were cited in a 1989 National Research Council 
Report, which found that these farmers generally derived '"significant 
sustained economic and environmental benefits" (WRi 1990-91. p. 98; 
Commoner 1990. p. 98). Organic farming techniques meet the ecologist s 
ideal for agriculture described in the preceding chapter, "a relatively 
stable and mature subclimax that is optimum considering all of mans 
needs and that is characterized by constructive symbiosis rather than 
warfare between man and nature." But only 5% of American farmers 
have adopted alternative agriculture, and worldwide, the trend is in favor 
of conventional modern farming techniques. One measure ot this is that 
world pesticide use is increasing at a rate ot more than 12% each year. 

One reason for this preference is that, over the short run, modern 
agricultural techniques increase agricultural productivity/ The world 
now lives on a very thin margin of tood supplies in a time ot rapidly 
increasing population; the problem in most areas is to increase food 
production as fast as possible. Moreover, although the NRC report 
concluded that alternative agriculture can be as productive as conven- 
tional farming, productivity is briefly lower during a transition period 

♦ Actually, researchers are learning that this statement is not always true. \XTien 
farmers plant trees and other plants along with their crops, crop yields can be 
higher than in monocultures, as prescribed by the Green Revolution. Trees 
pump nutrients from deep soil to the surface, making them available to crops. 
Moreover, they lessen wind and water erosion ot the soil and hold rainwater. 
Shrubs are similarly helpful. A mixed plot in Nigeria not only produced higher 
crop yields than a nearby monoculture plot, but the shrubs also yielded 
fuelwood for local people (Matthews 1990, p. 41). 




Ecological Farming 

A mode of agricultural production that gets only a one-to-five or, worse, a 
one-to-ten return on its energy input may make economic sense in the 
short run, but it is ecological nonsense in the long run, unless energy is su- 
perabundant and ecologically harmless to tap, which is not the case. 
Moreover, despite what technologists and spokespeople for agribusiness 
say, there is a real possibility of breaking the vicious circle of technological 
addiction in agriculture and shifting back toward an agriculture based on 
dilute but renewable and nonpolluting solar energy but informed by a 
high degree of scientific understanding and biological sophistication. With 
care, very high yields could be obtained for millennia from such an agricul- 
tural technology Some of the principles and techniques of ecological farm- 
ing were suggested in the preceding chapter. Ironically, many of them 
resemble earlier farming techniques that we have scorned as primitive and 
inefficient: combined forestry and grazing, controlled cropping of game 
animals (game ranching) instead of catde raising in tropical areas, fish 
ponds that turn wastes into protein, mixed farming instead of monocul- 
tures, crop rotation and the use of both animal manure and “green fer- 
tilizer,” substitution of labor for herbicides and pesticides, and so forth. 
Especially if they are brought up to date via modern science, these techni- 
ques are highly productive (on a per-acre basis they can outproduce in- 
dustrial agriculture), but only when human labor is carefully and patiently ap- 
plied. Thus farming that is both productive and ecologically sound seems 
very likely to be small-hold, horticultural, possibly peasant-style agriculture 
finely adapted to local conditions (especially in the tropics). It should be 
obvious that many of the developing countries are well poised to make 
the transition to this modernized version of traditional agriculture. Except 
for the excessive use of insecticides and chemical fertilizers in some areas, 
the agriculture of China, Taiwan, Korea, Ceylon, Egypt, and some others is 
already close to this mode — and has high per-acre yields to show for it. In 
the United States and most other developed countries, on the other hand, 
either agriculture will have to “dedevelop” to make the necessary changes, 
or agribusinesses will have to adapt alternative techniques to large opera- 
tions. Superior Farming Company and Steven Pavich and Sons, two of 
California’s largest table grape companies, have successfully done so, but 
resistance elsewhere is high (WRI 1990-91, p. 98). 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


(typically, for three years). In those countries where the Green Revolu- 
tion has only recently been adopted, changing to alternative techniques 
may therefore seem insufferable. In developed countries, where farmers 
have largely put the farmers life of toil behind them, fertilizer and 
pesticide companies not only argue (misleadingly) that crop losses are 
greater with organic than with conventional techniques, but also stress 
that alternative farming is more labor intensive, thereby increasing agri- 
business’s resistance to change. 

In sum, while ecological farming can work, it is unlikely to be rapidly 
embraced and widely adopted. Furthermore, advances in industrial agri- 
cultural technology and even food technology will certainly occur, but 
they come with costs and risks. There is no reason to believe that possible 
changes in agriculture will be rapid or thorough enough to feed 8 billion 
people even as well as we feed 5 billion now (surely not a standard we 
ought to feel proud of). The prospect of feeding 10, 14, or even 16 
billion people seems unrelievedly dismal. 

Mineral Resources 

People eat food. Modern industrial civilization “eats” mineral and energy 
resources and would collapse if these items essential to its diet were not 
available in sufficient abundance. Apart from minerals used directly, as are 
mica in electronics, copper in wires, and nickel in jet engines, minerals are 
used as alloys, such as steel and bronze, or as essential components of 
important materials, such as glass, cement and concrete. The value of 
nonfuel minerals to the United States economy in 1988 was 418 billion 
dollars. Are there enough minerals to satisfy the present and anticipated 
requirements of our industrial society? As with the question of the limits 
to growth in general, there are two basic schools of thought on the 
availability of minerals. 

Mineral Availability: Ecologist versus Technojixers 

According to one school of thought, mineral resources are essentially 
finite, we are using them up at a rapid rate, and we shall run out of many 
of the raw materials our industrial civilization needs rather abruptly in 
the near future. The second school holds that supplies of resources are not 
at all finite; on the contrary , provided energy is abundant , they can be almost 
indefinitely expanded by means of technological innovation and substitu- 
tion. Spurred by the price mechanism, these will suffice to keep supplies 
well ahead of increasing demand, until demand levels off, gradually and 



gently, to an eternally sustainable level. Let us employ the term ecological 
for the former school of thought and technofixer * for the latter. 

A review of the debate between the two schools will show that, just 
as for agriculture, an answer to the question turns upon ecological 
scarcity, rather than resource scarcity in itself. That is, for the next four to 
five decades the critical question is not whether we are capable of 
expanding mineral resources to keep up with rapidly growing demands 
but whether we can bear very much longer the costs of doing so, in terms 
of energy use, land devastation, and pollution. Let us begin by examining 
the dynamics of resource use with a fixed stock of a hypothetical resource, 
applying different kinds of assumptions about supply. Then, following this 
explanation of the basis of the ecological position, we shall look at the 
counterarguments of the technofixer school. 

The Nature of Exponential Growth 

A quantity grows exponentially when its rate of increase during a period 
of time is a fixed percentage of the changing size of the quantity. Thus a 
population with access to unlimited supplies of the necessities of life 
grows exponentially: The increase in population with each new genera- 
tion means that there are more breeders to produce a further increase in 
the next generation, and so on. Similarly, money earning compound 
interest grows exponentially because it yields a certain percentage of both 
the original amount and the accumulated interest. (By contrast, money 
invested at simple interest yields a return on only the original amount; 
there is no compounding, so growth is linear.) With exponential growth, 
at the end of some period that depends on the percentage rate of increase, 
the original quantity will be doubled. Naturally, raising the percentage 
rate of increase shortens the doubling period. At a steady 5%, a quantity 
doubles about every 14 years; at 10 percent, there are only 7 years 
between doublings. ^ Figure 2-4 illustrates the increase with time of any 
quantity that grows exponentially. (Note that Figure 2-4 is simply the 
bottom half of the familiar sigmoid curve.) However, the significance of 

* We are indebted to Margaret McKean of Duke University for suggesting this 
term instead of economic, which was used in the first edition. Among other 
things, she points out that the ecological view pays attention to ecological 
variables but that it is not “non-economic” and should not be so characterized. 

Dividing the percentage rate of increase into 70 gives (roughly) the doubling 
time in years. Of course, a quantity growing linearly doubles too, but the time 
between doublings gets longer and longer as the series continues. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


continued exponential growth may be conveyed more vividly by two 

One tells of a greedy merchant who asked the king to pay for his 
services with grains of wheat on the squares of a chessboard — one for the 
first square, two for the second, four for the third, and so on to the 
sixty-fourth square. Unfortunately for the merchant, the king was not 
mathematically naive. A quick calculation showed the king that the 
amount of wheat required for the final square would be about 8.5 X 10 18 
grains, an astronomically large amount, and he quickly put the greedy and 
treacherous merchant to death. This story illustrates the levels that an 
exponentially growing quantity, starting from insignificant amounts, can 
reach after comparatively few doublings. As one looks higher on the 
exponential curve (Figure 2-4), the absolute amount of increase at each 
doubling soon becomes staggering. We have already noted some of the 
very large demands further doublings of the world population would 
place on the earth. It should now be obvious why the sigmoid curve is 
universally observed in nature: An exponential growth curve must even- 
tually bend over and become a flat line, for a mere 20 or 30 doublings of 
almost any population or quantity suffice to produce amounts that 
cannot be sustained or produced on a finite earth. 


2 3 4 5 6 7 

Doubling periods 

FIGURE 2-4 The exponential curve, which describes the size of any ex- 
ponentially growing quantity after a given number of doubling periods. 



The second parable, popularized during the public debate over The 
Limits to Growth, concerns a lily pad growing in a fish pond. According to 
the parable, the lily doubles in size each day and if the lily keeps growing, 
in 30 days it will cover the pond, killing the fish. At first the lily is a tiny 
speck in the pond, and even after many doublings it remains very small 
relative to the pond. The farmer who owns the pond is not concerned. 
He believes that he has plenty of time to cut back the lily and save his fish. 
Even on the morning of the twenty-eighth day, when the lily covers only 
one quarter of the pond, he does not realize that by the next morning the 
lily pad will occupy half of the ponds surface and that he will then have 
precisely one day to cut back the now rapidly burgeoning lily. This story 
illustrates the insidious nature of exponential growth when there is a 
finite limit. Until the very last stages of the progression, the limit appears 
so far away that it may seem like a problem for our great-grandchildren, 
not us, to worry about or, at the very least, a problem that we can handle 
in due course once it becomes pressing. The catch is that realization of 
the consequences of unchecked growth often comes late. Once the 
problem has become pressing, it may require heroic measures to check 
the momentum of rapid growth and prevent a crash. 

Growth versus Resources: Running Out in Theory and Practice 

In light of this general understanding of the nature and power of ex- 
ponential growth, let us see what happens to a hypothetical mineral 
resource of finite dimensions as demand grows exponentially at 3.5% per 
annum, so that doubling of the absolute demand occurs every 20 years. 


Remaining Stock 

Current Demand 
(tons per annum) 

Static Reserve 





















Thus, as demand doubles, redoubles, and doubles again, absolute 
demand rises from a modest 100 tons per annum to 16 times that amount 
by the fourth doubling, and a resource that appeared at the start to be 
adequate for half a millennium begins to be depleted very rapidly until, 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


finally and abruptly, the stock is exhausted. The static reserve — the num- 
ber of years of useful life at current levels of demand — is therefore a very 
poor indicator of how long a resource is likely to last if demand is 
growing. Much more important is the exponential reserve — that is, how 
long the reserve can be expected to last when probable future demands 
on the resource are taken into account. In this case, the exponential 
reserve is 83 years, less than 20% of the 500-year static reserve. 

Suppose now that we wish to take into account new discoveries and 
new technologies that will expand our hypothetical resource. Let us say 
that instead of 50,000 tons total reserve we really have 500,000 tons, or 
10 times as much. This allows usage to go on for a few more years, as 
continuing our tabulation under the new assumptions shows: 


Remaining Stock 

Current Demand 

Static Reserve 

















The stock will now last for about 147 years. Thus multiplying the total 
available stock by 10 (1000%) extends the time to exhaustion by less than 

However, a mere tenfold increase in the stock may still be too 
pessimistic for some, so, as an allowance for resource expansion through 
any conceivable combination of technological innovation and discovery 
of new resources, let us assume that we start with 100 times our original 
stock. This does in fact allow growth to continue for a little longer: 


Remaining Stock 

Current Demand 

Static Reserve 

















But alas, the impact of even such a fantastic increase in our hypothetical 
resource is dismayingly small. A 10,000% increase in the original stock 



gives a mere 217 years exponential reserve at a 3.5% growth rate. This is 
hardly more than double (261%) the original 83-year exponential reserve. 
Note also how staggeringly large the absolute level of demand becomes 
as growth continues. 

It is obvious from this hypothetical example that once absolute 
demand attains a substantial level, continued growth in demand begins to 
consume the remaining resources at an extremely rapid rate. However, 
the example contains a more important lesson about the insidiousness of 
exponential growth: even if foresight leads to adoption of a no-growth 
policy when about half of the stock is used up, there is very little effect on 
the time to exhaustion. For example, in the last tabulation, if at the time 
of the ninth doubling we forbid any further growth and simply continue 
to use up the resource at the annual rate then attained, the stock will last 
only an additional 68 years. In other words, assuming a 3.5% growth rate 
until then, the total life of the stock will be 248 years — only 31 years 
(14%) longer than if we simply allow the growth curve to run its course. 
This is so even though nearly 70% of the original stock remains when we 
prudently switch to a no-growth policy. Thus we have established three 
general principles: 

1. Given steady exponential growth, the absolute size of the stock of any 

resource has very little effect on the time it takes to exhaust the 

2. Given already high absolute demand on a particular resource, the rate 

of growth in demand thereafter has almost no effect on the time it 
takes to exhaust the resource. 

3. The time for concern about the potential exhaustion of a resource comes 

when no more than about 10 percent of the total has been used up. 

Since demand for minerals has increased exponentially over the last 
two centuries and has now reached levels that are very high indeed, the 
concern of the ecological school appears to be amply warranted, and 
real-world statistics provide further support for pessimism. Table 2-3 lists 
identified reserves of major minerals. 

The case is clear. More than half the static reserves are less than 50 
years, the average growth rate is about 2.3 percent, the doubling time is 

* As the name implies, “identified” resources are those that are definitely 
known to exist and are believed to be recoverable with current technology or 
under prevailing conditions. That these resources exist does not necessarily 
mean that extraction facilities are in place or operative. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


36 years, and the exponential reserve figures indicate that about half of 
these major minerals will be exhausted in less than 25 years at current 
growth rates. It is true that in the major industrial countries, the rate of 
increase in the per capita consumption of these raw materials has been 
decreasing since the 1970s. But the level of consumption remains ex- 
tremely high: The United States alone is estimated to have “consumed 
more minerals from 1940 to 1976 than did all of humanity up to 1940” 
(quoted in Young 1991, p. 41). Humanity today consumes twice the 
copper and steel it consumed in 1950; it consumes seven times the 
amount of aluminum. As we have seen, even if the people of the world 
agreed now, at these high rates of usage, not to increase the rate of 
consumption of mineral resources, that action would have little effect on 
the time it takes to exhaust the resource. The figures show that lead, 
mercury, tin, and zinc would still be exhausted in less than 25 years at 
current rates of consumption. Thus the predictions of the ecological 
school appear to be valid, unless some combination of new discoveries 

TABLE 2-3 Identified Reserves of Important Minerals 





Growth Rate 
of Demand 



























Mercury 7 




















*Data unavailable. 

Source: WRI, “STARS” DATA BASE 1990-91, condensing data taken from 
the U.S. Bureau of Mines and the World Bureau of Metal Statistics. Growth 
rate taken from U.S. Bureau of Mines, Mineral Facts and Problems , 1985. 



Figure 2-5 Years remaining of metal reserves. 
Source: Adapted from WRI, 1 990-91 . 

and technological innovation can indeed expand mineral resources more 
or less indefinitely. Let us, then, examine the various possibilities that the 
technofixer school would rely on. 

The Limits to Discovery and Substitution 

Most mineral geologists and mining engineers are on the whole 
pessimistic about our finding substantial new supplies of ore. Sophisti- 
cated forecasting techniques have been developed to estimate the total 
size of any given resource under various geological and economic 
assumptions, and expert predictions of total potential reserves tend to 
agree rather substantially (that is, the highest estimate rarely exceeds 
three or four times the lowest). Furthermore, geologists believe that 
the major metallogenic provinces (areas with a high concentration of 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


ore deposits) are well known and for the most part well explored. Ore 
deposits remain to be found, but we have already skimmed offthe cream, 
and much more sophisticated and expensive techniques must be used to 
ferret out the better hidden and less extensive deposits. Going deeper into 
the earth is no answer; the probability of ore formation decreases with 
depth, while the costs of extraction rise very steeply. The ocean, too, has 
been vastly overrated as a potential source of minerals. The available 
quantities are less than popularly imagined, and the difficulties and cost of 
extraction are enormous. The probability of really major discoveries has 
thus declined sharply and will continue to decline with each passing year. 
It is of course possible that new developments, such as the current “earth 
sciences revolution,” may lead to some unexpected discoveries that, 
unlike manganese nodules on the ocean floor, readily are exploitable. 
However, as our hypothetical example clearly shows, given the present 
very high levels of absolute demand, even major discoveries would have 
only a modest effect on either the static or the exponential reserve. 
Doubling the stock merely extends the time to exhaustion by one brief 
doubling period, and even a tenfold increase has little impact. 

In fact, no assumed basis of optimism really makes much difference, 
as is clearly illustrated by Table 2-4, which takes into account not only 
resources that could be economically extracted but also those that are 
marginally economic and subeconomic. Comparing Table 2-4 with Table 
2-3 shows that most static-reserve figures do not improve spectacularly 
(only aluminum shows even a tenfold increase); exponential-reserve 
figures, with the exception of aluminum, differ hardly at all (about half of 
the mineral resources will be exhausted in 33 years, and this is assuming 
that the now subeconomic portion can be mined). In sum, the optimism 
of the technofixer school about the impact of future discoveries appears 
to be unwarranted: Very little remains to be discovered about current and 
projected demand, and the technological difficulties and economic costs 
of finding and extracting hypothetical and speculative resources are far 
from trivial. 

Even if future discoveries enlarge the static reserves beyond these 
projections, that good fortune will buy us only a few more decades at 
best. Will substitution be the answer to impending shortages? Here 
again there are difficulties that the technofixer school has not con- 
fronted. First, the resource problem is one of confronting general 
scarcity, not simply of coping with the exhaustion of one or two 
particular minerals. Without substantial new discoveries, we shall have 
to invent a new metallurgy that can do without copper, lead, nickel, 
tin, zinc, and probably mercury — and in fairly short order. Second, 
although it is possible, for example, to substitute aluminum for copper 



Table 2-4 Maximum Reserves of Important Minerals, Assum- 
ing the Growth Rates Listed in Table 2-3 


Static Reserve 

Exponential Reserve 

























*Data unavailable. 

Source: WRI, “STARS” DATA BASE 1990-91, condensing data taken from 
the U.S. Bureau of Mines and the World Bureau of Metal Statistics. Growth 
rate taken from U.S. Bureau of Mines, Mineral Facts and Problems, 1985. 

in most electrical uses, this transfer of demand would simply cause 
aluminum to be used up even more rapidly than projected. Third, even 
good substitutes (such as aluminum for copper) are on the whole less 
efficient than the material they substitute for, and more energy is there- 
fore required to perform a given function.* Fourth, some metals have 
properties that are unique. For example, mercury is the only metal that 
is liquid at normal temperature and pressure; it is essentially irreplace- 
able in temperature- and pressure-control equipment. Other metals 
that would be hard to replace include cobalt for magnets, silver in 
many photographic uses, and the platinum group for industrial catalysts. 

* Fortunately, this is not always true. For example, the substitution of fiber 
optics for copper in some applications results in a net improvement in the 
efficiency of electrical transmission. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


Moreover, many metals serve the same function in metallurgy as vitamins 
in our diets; only small quantities are needed, but they are essential (for 
example, the manganese in steel). Needless to say, this will add to the 
difficulty of inventing new metallurgies. Fifth, plastics are often proposed 
as metal substitutes, but plastics are petrochemicals, and before long we 
will run out of petroleum (see Table 2-5). Also, the production of plastics 
involves serious pollution-control problems. Finally, manyproposedtech- 
nological solutions to environmental problems, such as the breeder reac- 
tor and thermonuclear fusion, require large quantities of very particular 
types of materials of a very high quality, and for many of these major 
resources, such as helium and lithium, there seems to be no satisfactory 
substitute. It appears, then, that substitution will not help us much in 
overcoming the emerging problem of mineral scarcity. It can alleviate 
particular shortages and buy time, but it is not a solution, either alone or 
in combination with new discoveries. 

Limits to Extracting Minerals 
from Seawater and Ever-Thinner Ores 

Technologists (especially those connected with the nuclear industry) 
and most economists usually see energy as the answer to all mineral- 
resource problems. They say that if abundant and cheap energy is 
available, we can, if worse comes to worst, literally burn up the rocks 
to obtain our minerals (and even the fuel to extract them). Resource 
scarcity is thus not seen as a problem, for nuclear energy will provide 
us with cheap, abundant, nonpolluting energy. Fortunately, this seduc- 
tive argument ignores a number of crucial problems, even if the 
availability of energy is granted. 

First, only six metals are abundant in the earth s crust ( abundant is 
defined as present in a quantity exceeding 0.01% of the crust by 
weight) — iron, aluminum, manganese, magnesium, chromium, and 
titanium. All the rest of the metals are geologically scarce. It is a 
characteristic of the former that, as the standard for economically 
minable ore is lowered, the quantity of lower-grade ore increases. In 
other words, there is a more or less gradual continuum from the very 
richest ore bodies of these abundant metals to the almost infinite 
quantities of very low-grade “ore” con tained in ordinary rock. There- 
fore, the theory goes, all it takes to keep extracting the metal is energy 
and the technical ability to mine and refine ore of successively lower 
grades. However, the lower the grade of the ore, the greater the 
economic cost (which rises exponentially with decline in grade), the 



greater the volume of rock that must be processed and disposed of per 
unit of useful output, the higher the energy cost per ton of metal, and 
above all, the greater the ecological cost due to pollution and increased 
demand for water. All of these factors are serious limitations on our ability 
to continue extracting the abundant metals, despite our technical ability 
to do so. 

Second, the scarce metals are characterized by a sharp discontinuity 
between their concentration in currently minable ore and their average 
concentration in the earth’s crust. Once concentrated ore deposits are 
mined out, lowering the grade slightly does not increase availability. 
Only a leap to ore that may be leaner by 3 to 5 orders of magnitude — that 
is, ordinary rock — will produce more metal. Because the economic and 
ecological costs, the volume of rock that must be moved, and the 
quantity of energy required for continued production of a scarce metal 
from ever-thinner ores all increase exponentially with decline in ore 
grade, the side effects from burning the rocks to get mercury, zinc, tin, 
and the other scarce metals will be staggering. For example, to obtain a 
mere 400 tons of zinc (a tiny fraction of the annual world demand of 
over 7,114,000 metric tons,) it would be necessary to process 5 million 
tons of ordinary rock with perfect efficiency, for the crustal abundance 
of zinc is only 0.0082% by weight.* Thus, in order to satisfy even a 
fraction of current demand for these metals under such a regime, truly 
astounding amounts of material would have to be obtained, processed, 
and disposed of. The economic, energetic, and environmental costs 
would be of even more astounding dimensions: current problems with 
stripmining would seem trivial by comparison. It thus appears extremely 
doubtful that we shall ever obtain zinc and the other scarce metals in any 
quantity from either ordinary rock or seawater — and if we were to do so, 
these metals would cost considerably more than gold does today. 

Third, the harm to the environment that will result from efforts to 
extract and process more metals from the earth may necessitate halting 
such mining well before a metal “runs out.” Even today, mining causes 
extensive harm to the environment. Millions of hectares of land are 

* The problem of extracting minerals from seawater, which has also been 
proposed, is essentially similar but is even more intractable, because the 
concentration of most minerals in seawater is vastly less than their concentration 
in the crust. Using zinc as an example again, we find that to get the same 400 
tons, it would be necessary to process 9,000 billion gallons of seawater 
(equivalent to the combined annual flows of the Hudson and Delaware Rivers) 
with 100% efficiency (Cloud 1969, p. 140). 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


devastated each year, and millions of trees are destroyed. Billions of tons 
of solid waste are produced, to say nothing of vast air and water pollution. 
In the United States, 9 million hectares are covered by current and 
abandoned coal and metal mines — an area more than half the size of all 
the roads, parking lots, and other paved areas of the country. In addition, 
pollution from mines is carried by water and wind far beyond the mining 
sites. In the western United States, 16,000 kilometers of streams contain 
acidic or toxic drainage from mines and mining wastes (Young 1991, p. 
42). The smelting of ores discharges into the air sulfur oxides, arsenic, lead, 
and heavy metals, some of which are carcinogenic and some of which 
cause acid rain, and they blow across countries and international boun- 
daries. Non-fuel mining produces over 1 billion tons of waste annually, 
six to seven times the total amount of municipal waste produced (Young 1991,p. 
42). All of these effects will increase as the world mines lower-grade ores; 
more land will be devastated, and an ever-greater part of what is mined 
will be waste materials. 

Reducing Demand: The Limits of Recycling and Conservation 

If we cannot expect to expand supply very substantially by new dis- 
coveries, easy substitutions, or (with the possible exception of several 
abundant metals) using ore of ever-lower grades, can we reduce demand 
sufficiently to produce the same net effect? This may indeed be a more 
promising approach to the problem of resource scarcity, but we must still 
confront limits on our economies. It is often said that once the price of a 
metal has climbed high enough, it will pay to recycle the metal 
scrupulously, so that we shall be able to keep reusing the same stock. Yet 
first of all, we must remember that in accordance with the second law of 
thermodynamics, the recycling process can never approach 100% 
efficiency.* When all the inevitable losses — in production, from friction 
and wear, through corrosion and other chemical processes, from outright 

* Every time energy is transformed from one state to another, a certain penalty, 
called entropy, is exacted. Entropy is unavailable, unusable, or dissipated energy. 
For example, when water flows over a dam into a lake, it can turn a turbine and 
generate electricity. In the lake below, the water is no longer in a useful state to 
do such work. Any time any work occurs in the world, some amount of energy 
becomes unavailable to do future work. For thermodynamic reasons, products 
differ radically in the entropy created in their recycling process (the “theoretical 
efficiency” with which they can be recycled). Thus metals can be recovered 
with high efficiency, but petrochemicals cannot. For example, four old tires are 
needed to make the raw materials for one new tire. 



loss and other human failure — are added up, we should be miraculously 
lucky to achieve the 90% level in recycling efficiency. (Actual recycling 
efficiency for used metals is now on the order of 30% or less.) The only 
metals for which we could expect a higher ratio of recovery are the 
chemically nonreactive precious metals, which are hoarded rather than 
used. Thus, to maintain the stock in use, we shall still need raw materials. 
Second, many recycling processes are rather dirty, so recycling will con- 
tinue to add to our pollution problems. Third, recycling runs ther- 
modynamically uphill — that is, scattered materials must be collected, 
transported, and transformed from a high-entropy to a low-entropy 
state — which requires energy, typically in rather large amounts (this is one 
reason why the United States recycles only 11% of its solid waste). 
Fourth, the potential efficiency of recycling and the design of products are 
directly related. For example, even small amounts of contamination may 
make a particular metal useless for many industrial purposes, and designs 
that make recovery impossible without cross-contamination will frustrate 
recycling (this is the major technical impediment to recycling the metals 
in junked cars) or compel us to use inordinate amounts of energy to purify 
scrap metal. Thus the effective recycling of many major metals will require 
a revolutionary change in industrial processes, business practices, and 
design standards — and perhaps also in the nature of our cities. 

A second approach to reducing demand is conservation or source 
reduction. If we can do more with less, or even the same with less, by 
making more efficient, more durable and smaller machines or structures, 
then we can reduce levels of demand accordingly. This is often not so 
much a matter of technological wizardry — the savings to be made by 
further miniaturization and other innovations are probably rather small — 
as of not using materials wastefully. The typical high-rise building, for 
example, contains far more steel than is really required for structural 
integrity; the typical residence still uses more wood than is needed. 
Another way to avoid waste is to reuse materials. Parts of automobiles, 

* The energy used in reducing ores to a pure metal is higher — sometimes 
much higher — than the energy used in recycling a product for reuse. (In the 
most extreme case, producing an aluminum item from recycling reduces 
energy use between 90% and 97% percent compared to the energy needed to 
produce that same item from raw materials.) But governments frequently 
subsidize the mining of raw materials. In the United States, for example, 
mining companies receive massive tax exemptions, called depletion 
allowances, which offset the energy costs of producing raw materials. So far the 
government has not granted equivalent tax breaks to recyclers. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


refrigerators, washing machines, plumbing materials, aluminum siding, 
and small tools and machinery can be cleaned or reshaped and reused. 
Consumer cans and bottles can be reused as well. The savings in materials 
and energy, even compared to those possible through recycling, are huge. 
A 12 ounce “refillable” bottle, for example, can be reused 50 times. To 
ready it for reuse consumes only 2.4% of the energy needed to create a 
recycled container for reuse and only 1% of the energy needed to create 
a botde or can from virgin materials. Despite this, few “bottle bills” have 
been adopted to encourage people to abandon their “throwaway” habits. 

Another approach to conservation is to make products more durable. 
If the average car were built to last twice as long as current models do, it 
would reduce by nearly half the auto industry’s gluttonous appetite for 
materials. This is the kind of technically simple economy measure that 
would have the greatest immediate impact on the life of reserves. 
Paradoxically, this is also the kind of measure that is least discussed. 
Economic factors are probably the chief explanation: Products that were 
more durable, were easily reusable or recyclable, and fit other resource- 
conserving criteria would cost more, and business turnover would be less. 
The “iron law” of American marketing, according to Vance Packard, is to 
create “maximum sales volume [which] demands the cheapest construc- 
tion for the briefest interval the buying public will tolerate (Young 1991, 
p. 47). Until the price of ordinary metals approaches that of gold, 
therefore, resource-conserving production will probably be at a disad- 
vantage if matters are left to be decided purely by market forces.* In any 
event, conservation only buys time; if growth continues, and especially if 
we use some of the resource-intensive technological ’’fixes” that have 
been proposed, then any conceivable conservation program will have 
little more effect than a mere doubling of reserves. 

Minerals: An Emerging Crisis 

To summarize, there are demonstrable limits on the expansion of mineral 
resources. After spending most of its history as a mineral-rich nation, the 
United States now finds itself increasingly dependent on imports for a 
very large proportion of its essential requirements. Barring a deliberate 
national policy of maximum autarky, or national self-sufficiency (which 
would be possible in the short run if we were willing to bear the 
economic and ecological costs), the dependency ratio is bound to in- 

* We shall explore these kinds of political, economic, and social impediments 
to ecological rationality in Part II. 



crease in the future. As a result, we will probably face major political, 
economic, and psychological adjustments, especially because worldwide 
competition for minerals appears to be increasing. The United States 
trade deficit in mineral materials, which has varied between $9 billion 
and $16 billion annually since 1983 (Corson 1990, p. 184), will present us 
with increasing difficulties, particularly in view of the trend toward 
overwhelming dependence on foreign supplies of energy. All of the 
industrial countries will have similar difficulties. All of them (except the 
Soviet Union) run trade deficits in mineral materials. These countries will 
have to compete among themselves and with the developing world for 
diminished supplies. All will have to make adjustments in consumption 
patterns as supplies become uneconomic to obtain or the environmental 
costs of obtaining them become unacceptable. 


Can Energy Supplies Surmount Ecological Limits? 

Humanity needs energy. To produce more food and to mine the earths 
minerals (especially those that are becoming depleted) require energy. To 
cook food, to heat homes, and to replace human labor in agriculture and 
industry require energy. To transport ourselves — indeed, to do all work — re- 
quires energy. What are our energy resources and how rapidly are we 
consuming them? What new sources are under development? What are the 
dangers, if any, attached to current and future energy production and use? 
These last two questions are the most important. Current methods of energy 
production and use, as we shall see, are destroying the planet. At some point, 
the biosphere will be so badly damaged that the costs, in terms of human 
suffering and death, will force us to abandon these methods — even though, 
if we wait to be forced, anything we do will be too late. On the other hand, 
humanity theoretically has the capacity both to reduce energy’s contribution 
to environmental havoc and to meet its energy requirements for some time. 
To do so would require us to use existing energy vastly more efficiently than 
we do now and rapidly to develop new, nonpolluting energy sources. 
Depending on the choice we make, energy production will either con- 
tribute to our pollution problems or become part of their solution. 

Rising Energy Demand and the Supplies of Fossil Fuels 

In 1987 the world consumed 20% more energy than it consumed a 
decade earlier. Most of that energy, 90% of it, came from fossil fuels, 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


biologically stored solar energy from the remains of finite numbers of 
plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Most of the increase in 
consumption took place in developing countries, whereas in Europe and 
the United States, as energy conservation measures enacted in the 1970s 
began to take effect in the 1980s, energy consumption went up only 
slightly. In Africa, however, consumption went up 68%, in South America 
30%, and in Asia 54% (WRI 1990-91, p. 316-17). Worldwide, energy 
consumption is expected to increase by 2% per year through the year 
2000. As they try to industrialize, as they expand their electrical supplies, 
and as they base their transportation systems increasingly on the use of 
motor vehicles, developing countries will be responsible for the bulk of 
increased energy consumption; their projected increase is 4 to 5% per 
year (Davis 1990, p. 58). 

World supplies of oil and natural gas, if they can be used, are adequate to 
meet expected levels of demand until about the middle of the next century. 
Table 2-5 shows the pertinent figures for coal, petroleum, and natural gas. 
Coal is very abundant; at 1989 levels of use, coal would last for 218 years. In 
the United States, domestic petroleum will be effectively used up by about 
the year 2000 (as is common knowledge, the United States has become 
dependent on foreign supplies well in advance of this date). Domestic natural 
gas is projected to last for another decade, until about 2010. But like the 
world as a whole, the United States does have huge quantities of exploitable 
coal (a reserve projected to last 286 years at the 1989 use rate). 

Unfortunately, however, fossil fuels cannot be consumed at the 1989 
rate for very much longer. As with nonfuel resources, we have already 
skimmed the cream, and much of what we can reasonably anticipate 
drilling or mining in the future will be increasingly uneconomic. For 

Table 2-5 Proved Fossil Fuel Resources at 1988 Production Rate 

Fossil Fuel 

Years Remaining 



Natural gas 




Source: Adapted from British Petroleum, Statistical Revietv of World Energy (BP 
London, 1989), p. 2, 20, 24. Cited in World Resources Institute 1990-91, p. 145. 



example, Gever and his associates calculated that the amount of energy 
produced from oil compared to a given amount of energy used for 
exploration, extraction, and processing — the energy output/input ratio — 
declined from about 100 in the 1940s to 23 in the 1970s (quoted in Daly 
and Cobb 1989, p. 406). In 1990 the energy output/input ratio had 
declined to 8; by 2005 it is expected to drop to less than 1 in the United 
States, and no new domestic oil production will occur (Daly and Cobb 
1989, p. 406). Nor can all the extractable reserves of fossil fuels be drilled 
or mined. Humanity is not likely to tolerate the burden of increasing 
environmental damage caused by their production. Oil exploration and 
drilling are already controversial in the United States. For example, the 
Trans- Alaska Pipeline was controversial when proposed. When Congress 
waived environmental standards and allowed it to be built, more con- 
troversy developed after the project created an environmental mess, the 
most visible (but not the most destructive) manifestation of which was 
the Exxon Valdez disaster (see Box 8). Controversy also persists in the 
United States over the drilling of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife 
Refuge (which, if permitted, would yield only about a year’s supply of 
oil) and over drilling off the coast of the lower 48 states. Some offshore 
oil drilling has been prohibited because of environmental concerns. The 
National Academy of Sciences estimates that drilling a single oil well 
produces between 1500 and 2000 tons of drilling muds and cuttings, 
most of which is contaminated with hazardous chemicals (quoted in 
Holing 1991, p. 15). Drilling companies dispose of millions of pounds of 
these materials by dumping them on the sea floor, suffocating lobsters and 
other bottom dwelling creatures. Drilling also produces waste water 
contaminated by oil, grease, cadmium, benzene, lead, and radioactive and 
other hazardous materials. The oil industry discharged 1.5 million barrels 
of such contaminated waste water into the Gulf of Mexico each day in 
1986. Oil drilling also causes air pollution, including nitrogen oxides, 
sulfur oxides, and hydrocarbons. These combine to produce ozone, smog, 
and acid rain, the consequences of which we will discuss in the next 
chapter. The daily air emissions from one exploratory drilling rig are 
equivalent to those from 7000 cars driving 50 miles (Holing 1991, p. 16). 

Finally, whatever way oil is produced, it almost always must be 
transported, which creates additional environmental problems. Each year 
between 3 and 6 million metric tons of oil are spilled — most deliberate- 
ly — into the oceans. (Oil tankers routinely wash themselves out with 
clean seawater, dumping the oily ballast water back into the sea). 'Ac- 
cidental” oil spills are also commonplace. For example, 3 weeks before 
the Exxon Valdez incident, the Exxon Houston spilled 117,000 gallons 
off Hawaii; 2 weeks after the Valdez spill, another ship released 10,000 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


Environmental Effects of North Slope 
Oil Production 

Many people are aware only of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster that 
spilled more than 10 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William- 
Sound, killing thousands of birds and other wildlife. But even before 
that disaster, tankers transporting North Slope oil had been involved in 
200 spills of some 13 million gallons of oil. Port Valdez was classified as 
an impaired waterway under the Clean Water Act because of routine 
discharges of toxic materials into it. Air pollution from the port was 
ranked as one of the worst on the west coast. Ground-level concentra- 
tions of benzene, a carcinogen, were 4 times the level of Chicago’s. 

Building the Alaska pipeline resulted in the spillage of 2 million gal- 
lons of oil and other materials; keeping the oil moving through the 
pipeline emits formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, xylene, and 700 tons of 
sulfur dioxide and 600 tons of nitrogen oxides per year. 100,000 metric 
tons of methane are emitted each year and 70,000 cubic yards of drill- 
ing wastes are produced each day . Billions of gallons of toxic wastes have 
been injected into the ground. What was once 800 square miles of pris- 
tine wilderness is now dotted with piles of hazardous solid wastes, 350 
miles of roads, and 1000 miles of pipelines (Holing 1991, p. 17-18). 

gallons off another Hawaiian coast. On June 23, 1989 there were 3 major 
spills of oil, totaling over 1 million gallons, into United States waters. 
From 1970 to 1985, the number of oil spills off the United States coast 
increased by 196%; the total volume of the spills increased by 57% 
(Commoner 1990, p. 38).* 

* Oil spills have been predicted by some environmentalists and industry critics 
since the 1950s. They demanded legislation requiring new supertankers to be built 
with double hulls. But industry dismissed their fears of oil spills as exaggerated and 
successfully persuaded Congress to kill the environmentalists’ bills (Bookchin 1990, 
p.82-83). Repeated efforts to require double hulls on supertankers were beaten 
back until 1990, when the United States Congress enacted a weak law in the 
aftermath of the Valdez and other incidents (cited in Chasis and Speer 1991, p. 21). 




Can We Meet Our Energy Demands with Coal? 

Many believe that American energy needs can be met from our sub- 
stantial reserves of coal until technological invention rescues us al- 
together from dependence on the stored-up energy in fossil fuels. Un- 
fortunately even if some of the technological improvements now on 
the drawing board (for example, magnetohydrodynamic power genera- 
tion) prove to be practical methods of extracting work from coal more 
efficiently and cleanly than we now do. burning more coal will still 
magnify our existing pollution and ecological problems. As we will see 
in the next chapter, perfect control of effluents is rarely possible (physi- 
cally or economically), and in any event, technological controls on the 
final step in production do nothing to mitigate ecological damage by 
all the other links in the chain from extraction to final use. The most 
striking and uncontrollable side effect of increased coal mining will be 
land devastation, for the most readily accessible and cleanest (that is, 
low-sulfur) coal must be strip-mined. The notoriously high human and 
ecological costs of strip mining are blatantly evident in Appalachia, and 
now the w’est and southwest are also under siege. Reclamation of strip- 
mined lands will always be inadequate. The well-knowm reluctance of 
mining companies to pay for it is the least of the problem. Even under 
the most favorable conditions, the land is left sunken and maimed, and 

The exploitation of the remaining coal also presents problems. Under- 
ground coal mining is a hazardous occupation. Apart from risking injury and 
deaths in mining accidents, coal minors suffer from coal induced black lung 
disease, emphysema and cancer. Surface mining causes land defacement and 
acid mine drainage. Industrial countries have passed law’s intended to reduce 
these problems, but many law’s have not been stricdy enforced, and certain 
restoration problems have so far been intractable. The United States govern- 
ment, for example, has not enforced the Surface Mining Control and 
Reclamation Act of 1977; in issuing mining permits to coal operators, 
administrators routinely grant exemptions from soil reconstruction require- 
ments and performance standards. In addition, coal operators do not have the 
equipment or technological means to restore farmlands to their pre-mining 
capabilities. Finally, as we shall note in Chapter 3, mined land is subject to 
erosion, landslides, and floods. Even reclaiming it does not eliminate the acid 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


water quality as well as other environmental values are inevitably im- 
paired. In the arid west, there is not enough water even to attempt res- 

If all the coal mines, power stations, and liquefaction or gasification 
plants now projected were to be built, they would require for their opera- 
tions, exclusive of reclamation, between three and four times the total 
amount of water now used throughout the entire country (McCaull 
1974). But because water is generally coming into short supply and farms 
and industry as well as ordinary 7 individuals also need that water, it will 
clearly be impossible to operate all the projected mines and plants. 
Moreover, making coal the basis of our energy economy will require 
money labor power, and a general logistical effort (for example, to build 
transportation facilities) of staggering dimensions, especially if we strive for 
a maximum of “energy independence” in the near future (A. L. Ham- 
mond 1974a). Maximum coal development would also necessitate the 
destruction of good arable and forested land — in short, the sacrifice of 
long-term agricultural productivity for short-term energy production. 

Thus the amount of coal vve can reasonably expect to obtain and 
use is far less than the amount theoretically available in the ground. At 
best, coal offers only a temporary, stopgap satisfaction of our short-term 
energy 7 requirements, and vve shall very soon have to conceive and con- 
struct alternative technologies of energy 7 supply that do not depend on 
such nonrenewable and environmentally damaging fuels. 

drainage problem, which is contaminating streams and groundwater 
bey 7 ond the mining areas themselves. 

Even if humanity could five with the pollution caused by the extrac- 
tion of fossil fuels, it is questionable whether humanity can five with the 
pollution caused by their burning. In Chapter 3, we will see the extent to 
which acid rain is damaging aquatic life in eastern lakes and streams and 
how it corrodes buildings, weakens some species of trees, and adversely 
affects human health. We also will observe how smog causes human 
health problems, damages agriculture, and also kills forests. Technological 
means exist to reduce the amount of smog and acid rain formed with the 
burning of fossil fuels, both by producing ‘‘cleaner fuels in the first place 
and by 7 using new 7 control technologies during burning. Some advanced 
repowering technologies for producing electricity, such as the integrated 
coal-gasification combined cycle system (IGCC), can reduce methane 



and remove almost all of the sulfide by-products of coal before the 
synthesis gas is burned (Fulkerson et al. 1990, p. 131). At the same time, 
the efficiency by which power is produced in these plants is raised from 
34% (for a coal-burning conventional plant) to 42%. But utilities are slow 
to adopt advanced technologies. The new technologies may be perceived 
to be (and indeed may at first be) more costly, or they may be perceived 
as unnecessary. Utilities do not want to retire today s conventional power 
plants before their useful life (which may last from 20 to 40 years) is over, 
and it may take a very long time from the day a new technology is 
conceived until it is designed, developed, tested, refined, and finally 

Moreover, even if utilities and industry were persuaded or forced to 
quickly adopt state-of-the-art technologies to reduce the emissions of 
fossil fuels that cause smog and acid rain, carbon dioxide is the inevitable 
product of combustion. The buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmos- 
phere causes the greenhouse effect. Six billion tons of carbon are added 
to the atmosphere each year, and the amount has been rising by 400 
million tons annually since 1986 (Flavin and Lenssen 1991, p. 24). A 
United Nations study concluded in 1990 that these levels of carbon 
emissions will produce rapid and highly disruptive climate changes in 
the coming years — changes that will harm agriculture, forests, and 
people directly. (We will discuss this further in Chapter 3.) 

Unfortunately the carbon emissions of burning coal, which we have 
in abundance, are higher than those of burning any other fossil fuel. Coal 
produces 25% higher carbon emissions than an equivalent amount of oil 
and 80% higher carbon emissions than an equivalent amount of natural 
gas. Producing synthetic fuels or synthetic natural gas from coal does not 
overcome this problem. Although advanced powering technologies, such 
as IGCC, * can reduce carbon dioxide emissions slightly by improving 
the efficiency of electrical production, coal gasification by conventional 

* Integrated coal-gasification combined cycle plants would convert coal to 
a gaseous mixture, using steam and oxygen. The gases would power a gas 
turbine to produce electricity, and the heat from the gas would be harnessed 
to vaporize water to run a steam turbine (Fulkerson et al. 1990, p. 132). 
Because the process powers two turbines, it gets more electricity for the 
energy supplied than do today’s coal plants. Theoretical models suggest that 
efficiency may be as high as 42% with advanced power technologies, 
compared to about 33 to 37% with conventional plants. The latter simply 
bum coal to vaporize water to run a steam turbine; the gases themselves just 
go up a smokestack as waste. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


means increases carbon dioxide emissions by 50% or more per unit of 
energy produced (Corson 1990, p. 194)/ 

Scientists believe that in order to stabilize the atmospheric con- 
centration of carbon dioxide, worldwide carbon emissions must be 
reduced by 60 to 80% (Flavin and Lenssen 1991, p. 25). To produce and 
consume coal at 1989 rates is utterly incompatible with this objective. 

In any event, humanity may not stabilize atmospheric concentra- 
tions of carbon dioxide in time to avert highly disruptive climate 
changes. It takes decades to achieve reductions in carbon emissions, 
even when there is — as in the United States there is not — the political 
will to achieve this goal/ As population continues to grow worldwide, 
analysts believe that Western Europe must cut its per capita carbon 
emissions to 25% of what they are today. The United States, which 
consumes almost twice as much energy per capita as Western Europe 
and Japan, would have to reduce its per capita carbon emissions to less 
than 15% of what they are today. To accomplish this would require 
changes not only in America’s methods of producing energy but also 
in American industry, agriculture, transportation, and housing and 
consumption patterns. 

The Potential and Peril of Nuclear Energy 

Many regard the coming changes and foreseeable end of the fossil-fuel 
era with complacency, for they believe that, just as coal replaced wood 
when the latter became scarce and expensive, new technologies will 
take over the burden of energy production, allowing material growth 

* Oil shale and tar sand deposits were thought at one time to be alternative 
sources of liquid hydrocarbons. The United States has substantial reserves of the 
former, Canada of the latter. However, obtaining liquid fuel from these 
resources required enormous quantities of rock to be mined, processed, and 
disposed of at high monetary, energetic, and environmental cost. In addition, it 
required the use of more water than could be supplied. Finally, oil shale and 
other synthetic fuels have a high carbon content per unit of energy produced. 
The United States abandoned its government-subsidized oil shale development 
program in the 1980s as uneconomic. 

t Fifteen nations, mostly from the European Economic Community, recently 
established a goal of reducing their carbon emissions by 20% or more. But the 
United States spurned this undertaking. At several international conferences 
beginning in 1989, it has prevented international agreement from being reached 
on specific goals and timetables for stabilizing and reducing carbon emissions 
(Meyer 1990, p. 3). 



to continue. In the relatively short term, say these optimists, we can turn 
to nuclear power. But is nuclear power the panacea many of its pro- 
ponents claim? Indeed, is it even a safe and sensible stopgap source of 
energy until we develop thermonuclear fusion and explore other long- 
range possibilities? This is an exceedingly controversial issue. Leaving 
aside some of the more esoteric technical problems, let us examine the 
issues of nuclear safety and waste, for these seem to be the main points of 

As we will see in Chapter 3, very small amounts of radiation can 
cause severe harm to ecosystems and people, particularly if the release of 
radioactive compounds continues for a number of years. Thus virtually 
perfect radionuclide-emission control is required. The boosters of nuclear 
power believe that we have the engineering and management capacity to 
achieve this level of control for large-scale generation of nuclear power. 
The critics contend that this hasn’t been achieved so far and that it can’t 
be achieved.^ What are the major points at issue? 

Proponents of nuclear power reiterate tirelessly that nuclear generat- 
ing plants are designed to keep emission during normal reactor operation 
low enough that any threat to public health is negligible. Even if one 

* At one time, some thought that the development of nuclear power would be 
restricted by finite global supplies of uranium. Light- water reactors (LWRs), 
the predominant type, burn only uranium 235, which constitutes only a tiny 
fraction of naturally occurring uranium (composed largely of uranium 238). 
The uranium-235 must be concentrated by laborious and highly 
energy-intensive techniques— techniques that release substantial quantities of 
carbon dioxide — before it can be used for reactor fuel. Added to the 
inefficiency with which fissionable uranium is obtained, light-water reactors 
are also relatively inefficient energy converters. If all the world's supply of 
uranium is consumed in light water reactors, only 70 terawatt-years of thermal 
energy will be produced, compared to the 154 from already discovered 
reserves of oil and 130 from already discovered natural gas (Hafele 1990, p. 
138). LWRs fission less than 0.6% of available uranium atoms; over 99% are 
wasted. Nevertheless, uranium is plentiful. The current estimated world supply 
of uranium ore is between 6 and 7 million tons — enough to power the number 
of nuclear plants currently in operation and the 96 under construction for 
about 100 years (Hafele 1990, p. 137). 

t One indication of the radiation being released from nuclear power plants is 
the concentration of krypton-85, which is uniquely associated with their opera- 
tion. From 1970 to 1983, the average annual concentration of this radioactive gas 
in the atmosphere increased by 80% (Commoner 1990, p. 34). 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


grants the validity of this position,* it is hardly decisive, for the very 
assumption of normalcy begs most of the important questions. Nuclear 
power generation can be safe only if the design and construction of the 
reactor are flawless; there are no accidents or operating errors; only if 
reactors, fuels, and other nuclear installations can be perfectly protected 
from acts of God, terrorism and sabotage, criminal acts, and acts of war, 
civil or foreign; and only if the release of radionuclides during all other 
phases of the fuel cycle (mining, processing, transportation, reprocessing, 
and disposal) can be rigidly controlled. As critics point out, this is a rather 
alarming list of “ifs.” In fact, the nuclear industry has run into trouble in 
almost every one of the areas mentioned. 

Design and operator competence have been far from perfect. The 
catastrophe at Chernobyl, which is expected to cause 70,000 cancer 
deaths and whose ultimate costs will surpass the Soviet government’s total 
prior investment in nuclear power, was initiated by operator errors. But 
design defects — control systems that proved to be inadequate — com- 
pounded the effects of operating errors (Flavin 1987, p. 33). The nuclear 
industry proclaimed that such an accident could not happen in the 
United States because western plant design was superior. But in March 
1979, a minor problem developed in the plumbing of the Three Mile 
Island-2 plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Operator errors and design 
defects then led to a partial meltdown in the TMI-2 core. Some control 
systems did not work, meters displaying crucial data were hidden from 
operators’ view; a critical valve got stuck, an important sensor didn’t 
work, and hundreds of warning lights came on and alarms sounded that 
only confused the operators more. One reactor operator, Ed Frederick, 
later told investigators that operators had closed the stuck valve (which 
was allowing cooling water to drain away from the overheated reactor) 
only because “no one could think of anything else to do” (quoted in 
Nogee 1986, p. 12). Some experts believe that the United States came 
within 30 minutes of a catastrophe that would have far exceeded the one 
at Chernobyl. (Nogee 1986, p. 12) Chernobyl released between 50 and 
100 million curies of radioactivity into the biosphere; the containment at 
TMI-2 held in 18 billion curies of radioactivity (Corson 1990, p. 196). 

* Many critics do not grant it. Because it has now become clear that even tiny 
doses of radiation have long-term adverse effects on human and ecological 
health — that, in other words, no radiation exposure can be considered risk-free 
(see Chapter 3) — critics contend that even the low-level, “normal” emissions 
from plants now operating constitute a threat to health. 



Some nuclear advocates point out that the ultimate safety device, the 
containment structure, did hold at TMI-2 and that no one was killed, 
demonstrating a key design superiority. But the fact that TMI-2 s con- 
tainment held may have been a matter of luck. An official of General 
Public Utilities, TMI’s owner, has recently admitted that “we’re surprised 
the reactor vessel contained the accident” (quoted in Flavin 1990, p. 60). 
Moreover, the Soviet containment structure at Chernobyl was up to 
some Western standards; it was, in fact, similar to the containments at 
plants built in the United States by General Electric (about one-third of 
US. reactors).* 

More important. United States nuclear plants have been plagued by 
serious accidents, shutdowns, and near misses. Between 1979 and 1987, 
there were 27,000 mishaps at licensed nuclear power plants. In 1985, for 
example, there were 3000 plant mishaps and 764 emergency shutdowns, 
18 of which were serious enough to lead to core damage (Flavin 1987, p. 
42). In 1987 there were 3000 mishaps, 104,000 incidents of worker 
exposure to radiation, and 430 emergency plant shutdowns. There were 
more than 150 serious accidents in 14 Western nations from 1971 to 
1984. Significant nuclear incidents have been initiated by field mice, a 
loose shirttail, and an improperly used candle. When accidents reveal 
design flaws and regulators force utilities to add safety features to existing 
plants, these additions are unavoidably piecemeal and are poorly in- 
tegrated into the facility’s layout. 

* Actually, in the early 1970s, the Atomic Energy Commission’s top safety 
officer concluded that GE’s containment was inadequate and should be 
banned. Exhibiting an attitude that is commonplace among nuclear 
regulators, Joseph Hedrie, who later became the Chairperson of the Nuclear 
Regulatory Commission, rejected his safety officer’s recommendation. A 
memo obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists quotes him as writing 
that the proposed ban “could well be the end of nuclear power. It would 
throw into question the continued operation of licensed plants, would make 
unlicensable the GE [and some Westinghouse] plants now in review, and 
would generally create more turmoil than I can stand thinking about.” 
(quoted in Nogee 1986, p. 13). 

t One, at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo, Ohio, involved 16 equip- 
ment failures, including the same stuck valve and human error involved in the 
near disaster at TMI-2. Operators averted core damage because they quickly shut 
that valve, allowing auxiliary pumps to cool the core. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 



Nuclear Safety: The Big Gamble 

That nuclear safety may be a bad gamble is indicated by the refusal 
of commercial insurance companies, bastions of prudence and the 
careful calculation of risks, to cover the nuclear industry 7 until they 
were assured of drastically limited liability and government rein- 
surance through the Price-Anderson Act. This Act, renewed in 1988, 
limits payment for nuclear accidents to $7 billion, even though a 
1982 study done for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported 
that a major nuclear accident could result in more than $100 billion 
in injuries and property damage. Even this larger figure does not in- 
clude most of the special ecological and societal costs of radioac- 
tivity, such as chronic, long-term ecosystem damage and adverse 
genetic effects. 

The nuclear industry attempts to assure the public that nuclear 
safety is a good gamble by publicizing the results of their “probabilistic 
risk analysis” of nuclear reactors. This defines risk as the probability 7 that 
an event will happen multiplied by its consequences. These analyses 
predict that core -damaging accidents should occur once every 10,000 
to 20,000 years of reactor operation (Hafele 1990, p. 141). But Three 
Mile Island occurred after only 1500 years of cumulative reactor opera- 
tions, and Chernobyl occurred after only another 1900 years (Flavin 
1987, p. 40). Probabilistic risk analysis models have certain difficulties. 
For example, they make assumptions that may not reflect reality 7 . One 
such assumption is that redundant safety 7 systems will not be destroyed 
simultaneously. But when a technician used a c andle to check for air 
leaks at the Browns Ferry, Alabama, nuclear plant i n 1975, a fire 
destroyed^veralmdundanFelectrical systems at the same time, actually 
shutting fiown the control room! Probabilistic risk analysis also^ does 
not Take into account unknown dangers of reactors built in developing 
countries, which have ffequendy been plagued by mismanagement, sub- 
standard construction materials and techniques, and bribes paid to in- 
spectors. As a result, nuclear critics claim that probabilistic risk analysis 
is not much better than guesswork. No one knows when and where 
the next nuclear accident will occur, but everyone knows that, some- 
where, it will. 



In some nuclear incidents, radiation has been released into the 
environment.* Nuclear regulatory bodies, which are usually protective of 
the industry, minimize incidents and nuclear hazards. Radiation releases 
are regularly characterized as presenting no danger to the public; in 
France, as Chernobyl’s radioactive cloud passed overhead, French officials 
stated repeatedly that it had missed the country. Utilities sometimes have 
not reported nuclear incidents or have delayed reports of them. GPU 
delayed reporting the TMI-2 incident and then repeatedly issued mis- 
leading statements minimizing its seriousness. 

Additional safety hazards loom. Nuclear plants have a relatively short 
life — at most 40 years. By 1990, 35 nuclear plants were at least 25 years 
old. Already, many are showing signs of aging. Neutrons bombard steel 
pressure vessels, causing them to become embrittled. Steam generators 
corrode. Pipes burst in unexpected places. In 1986 a hot-water pipe burst 
in the Surry Nuclear plant in Virginia, and four workers were killed 
(Flavin 1987, p. 45). Nuclear radiation builds up continually over the life 
of a reactor; dangerous levels of radionuclides will remain for thousands 
of years. 

Therefore, unlike conventional power plants, nuclear reactors cannot 
be destroyed with a wrecking ball. They must be dismantled and buried 
(decommissioned), or they must be mothballed for several decades until 
short-lived radioisotopes decay and must then be decommissioned. (A 
third option, entombment of the reactor on site, is now regarded as 
impossible. No matter how it was designed, the tomb would decay before 
the radioactivity did and would release the radioactivity into the bio- 
sphere.) Not only do the plants contain high levels of radioactive ele- 
ments but everything in the reactor is radioactive — the pipes, the equip- 
ment, the concrete. Even the solvents used for cleaning up the reactor 

* A more insidious safety problem is the accumulation of minor releases ot 
radionuclides from all the other phases of the fuel cycle. Such releases are in fact 
rather common today. An example is the planned release of long-lived 
radionuclides during fuel reprocessing. In addition, refining uranium for use in 
nuclear power plants produces uranium mill tailings; by 1987, the nations’ 
licensed mills had produced 186 million metric tons of tailings. Radioactivity 
from uranium mine tailings is already a problem in some localities. Tailing piles 
emit radon gas into the atmosphere and contaminate the groundwater below 
them with dangerous levels of radioactivity. At some sites, radioactivity levels in 
the groundwater exceed EPA standards by a factor of a hundred or a thousand 
(Critical Mass 1989, factsheet 5). 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 



Low-Level Nuclear Wastes 

Nuclear power plants also produce large amounts of low-level nuclear 
wastes each year. When they are decommissioned, they will produce 
16,000 cubic meters more — almost half as much as they produce 
cumulatively over their operating life. 

No one knows what to do with these wastes. Right now, they are 
dumped into special commercial landfills. But half of the landfills desig- 
nated for this purpose have been closed because their radioactivity is 
contaminating adjacent property. In Illinois, Kentucky, and New York, 
plutonium and other contaminants from these landfills have leaked into 
the groundwater. 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commissions proposed solution to the 
problem is simple. It wants to label some of these wastes “below 
regulatory concern” and allow producers to dispose of them in unregu- 
lated municipal landfills (Critical Mass 1989). The NRC apparently 
believes that the solution to pollution is dilution — that hardy folks 
everywhere will not mind just a little radioactivity in their drinking 

become contaminated; any solvents that spill contaminate the soil or 
whatever surface they splatter. All machinery in contact with a con- 
taminated surface becomes radioactive. Furthermore, neutron-activated 
parts of the reactor, including its pressure vessel, its internal components 
and structures, and its concrete shield, become 1000 times more radioac- 
tive than other contaminated components; because they become com- 
posed of radioisotopes, they cannot be washed clean (Pollock 1986,p. 10). 
A huge amount of materials must be dismantled, chopped up into pieces 
and removed by remote-control devices, and buried. No machinery has 
yet been designed for this task. It will be very labor-intensive, and the 
peoples who operate the machinery and do other decommissioning tasks 
will have to be rotated frequently to avoid radiation overexposure. Un- 
planned radiation leaks are inevitable. Decommissioning will be compli- 



cated, hazardous, time-consuming, and expensive — as expensive, perhaps, 
as building each nuclear plant in the first place.* 

And there is still nowhere to bury these materials safely. Disposal 
of wastes, a half-century into the nuclear age, is an unsolved problem. 
The fundamental reason is that the wastes are dangerous for millennia 
but planetary changes cannot be predicted for millennia. The metals 
alone in each of the nations nuclear plants will have built up an 
average of 4,600,000 curies of radioactivity Each reactor produces 30 
tons a year of highly radioactive spent fuel. These materials will take 
3,000,000 years to decay sufficiently to no longer be a serious risk. 
Spent fuel continually accumulates and no one knows what to do with 
it. Temporarily, it is stored in pools of water at each reactor: 21,000 
metric tons are now sitting in these pools, and 40,000 metric tons will 
accumulate by 2000. Some reactors are running out of capacity to 
store spent nuclear fuels. This material is very dangerous. If it were 
unshielded, a person nearby would receive a lethal dose of radiation in 

The nuclear industry contends that radioactive waste disposal is a 
political problem, not a technical one. It is the victim, they say, of the 
NIMBY phenomenon — the “not in my back yard” reaction of an 
ignorant public. But is it? No one disputes that nuclear wastes must be 
perfectly contained (and guarded) for millions of years. Nor is there any 
dispute that the pools at power plants, some of which have already leaked 
or are reaching capacity, are inadequate for this purpose. The authorities 
have been casting about for years for a viable alternative. Unfortunately, 
all the alternatives explored so far seem to have serious drawbacks. One 
of the most attractive schemes, solidifying the wastes and placing them in 
unworked salt mines in Kansas had to be abandoned when the dangers of 
water percolation became apparent. The Department of Energy has 
poured over $700,000,000 into a “test” facility in another salt deposit 
under the desert in New Mexico. But it, too, has water leaking into it in 
at least one location at the rate of a gallon a minute. This water will create 

* These expenses, moreover, have not been figured into the costs of producing 
nuclear power or into the electric bills of customers. (If they were, nuclear 
power would be ruled out as an energy source). Nor do regulators (with few 
exceptions) force utilities to save for decommissioning costs. It is highly unlikely 
that many will have the money available for decommissioning when it is 
needed. Furthermore, customers of utilities at the time of decommissioning will 
undoubtedly claim that it is unfair and unethical for them to pay for it, because 
they did not use the power the plant produced. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


a brine solution that will, within decades, corrode the steel drums in 
which the radioactivity is contained. When they corrode, the drums will 
leak. The Department of Energy, which has enshrouded the project in 
secrecy, has released no details on how or whether it can solve this 
problem, but it is proceeding with the project. In 1987 Congress desig- 
nated Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as a nuclear waste repository without 
scientific investigation of whether the site was geologically or hydrologi- 
cally suitable. (The site was, however, politically suitable. It is underpopu- 
lated and remote, and Nevada had only one unhappy congressional 
representative and two unhappy senators.) It turns out that the site is on 
volcanic rock that no one can be certain will be stable for 3,000,000 
years; furthermore, no one also knows whether nearby underground 
nuclear tests have cracked the volcanic tuff. Like the New Mexico 
project, the Nevada project is proceeding as though there were no 
scientific problems, while the industry describes local opposition as 
merely an example of the NIMBY phenomenon. 

It may be that government and industry intransigence reflects a 
desperation that engineers will not admit publicly. Radioactive wastes are 
accumulating everywhere; as we will see in Chapter 3, the power industry 
is only part of the problem. Military sites, and the groundwater and 
streams near them, are already seriously contaminated. Nuclear au- 
thorities may know that they have their backs up against the wall and that 
they simply must override normal democratic processes in order to get a 
site. Certainly some of their other proposals for dealing with nuclear 
wastes have an air of desperation about them: using Antarctic glaciers as 
repositories (extreme transportation hazards; serious risk of upsetting the 
delicate heat balance of the glaciers, with potentially momentous clima- 
tological consequences) or rocketing the wastes into space (staggering 
expense; potentially grave consequences of rocket failure). Their latest 
proposals also sound desperate: constructing “temporary retrievable 
storage facilities ... on islands or peninsulas” (Hafele 1990, p. 144). 
Nuclear authorities believe that this will give the industry (which has 
already had 50 years) “the time it needs to develop scientific, technologic 
and institutional final waste disposal methods” (Hafele 1990, p. 144). 
Another “advantage” of this proposal is that it would “encourage the 
development of new global institutions [to do the siting] immune to 
national politics” (Hafele 1990, p. 144). 

In sum, there are many difficult and for the most part unsolved safety, 
security, health, and pollution problems connected with the use of 
nuclear technology. The resolution of these problems is not assured, no 
matter how much money and effort is expended. As Christopher Flavin 
has written, 



Nuclear power is not the mature industry that proponents claim, but 
rather a sick one sustained by government subsidies.... The noble visions of 
the fifties did not include shoddy construction practices, billion-dollar cost 
overruns, disinformation campaigns by government officials, thousands of 
tons of accumulating nuclear wastes, or exploding reactors that con- 
taminate foodstuffs a thousand kilometers away (1987, p. 64-5). 

Already the nuclear problem is imposing very heavy management bur- 
dens and other social costs, important matters that will be explored in 
Chapter 3 and later in Part II. Above all, nuclear power does not appear 
to be the panacea that some of its proponents claim. Indeed, it does not 
even seem very attractive as a short-term stopgap. The earth does not 
seem large or stable enough to accommodate its wastes; human beings 
will never be infallible and thus will never be able to control all its 
hazards. Even if we factor in the possible adverse effects of global 
warming, it is foolhardy to choose a source of energy that is devilishly 
unforgiving of the slightest human failure and that produces lethal 
toxins, some of which have half-lives longer than the span of recorded 

Fusion Power: Infinite Potential Fraught 
with Problems and Limitations 

In theory, controlled thermonuclear fusion constitutes a potentially in- 
finite source of energy. Many therefore regard it as the long-range answer 
to all problems of energy supply. However, although fusion is undeniably 
attractive on many grounds, it is by no means free of problems and 

Above all, no one has yet demonstrated its practical feasibility, even in 
the laboratory, despite over 40 years of sustained international effort. 
Thermonuclear reactions take place in plasmas of ionized gases at 
temperatures and pressures comparable to those found in the sun and 
other stars. These plasmas cannot be physically contained, so confinement 
by magnetic field and other difficult and esoteric techniques have been 
employed in an effort to attain the levels of temperature and pressure 
necessary for a continuous reaction. Very little progress toward this 
objective has been made. The best achievements still fall considerably 
short of what is needed. Most scientists working in this field are confident 
that the laboratory breakthrough will eventually come, but the history of 
research in the field suggests that the solution to each particular problem 
either reveals a worse one behind it or proves incompatible with the 
solutions to other problems. Even optimists concede that the 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 



Safe Nuclear Power? 

Nuclear advocates are pursuing research that they claim will lead to the 
production of safe nuclear reactors. One type of new reactor would in- 
corporate passive safety systems into new light- water reactors; the other 
type would be gas-cooled, the reactor being theoretically unable to 
reach temperatures that would melt the fuel particles. But nuclear scien- 
tists have not yet reached a consensus about which design to pursue. 
Once that was done, building and completing tests on a prototype 
would take at least a decade. And even if the new reactor passed all 
safety tests, it would probably not be until 2010 that these “safe” reac- 
tors could come on line. 

There is no guarantee that the newly designed reactors would pass 
all safety tests. "Nucleonics Week,” an industry publication, concludes 
that "experts are flady unconvinced that safety has been achieved — or 
even substantially advanced by the new designs” (quoted in Flavin 
1990, p. 24). 

In addition, how much these new reactors will cost, compared to 
other energy sources then available, has not been addressed. The nuclear 
industry has a history of substantially underestimating the costs of 
nuclear projects. The industry has also not addressed the problem of 
nuclear wastes, which the new reactors will still produce. 

breakthrough is unlikely before 2050, at the earliest (Hafele 1990, p. 142). 
In any event, laboratory feasibility is only the first of a very long and 
expensive series of steps in research and development that will be re- 
quired to make fusion practical. The engineering problems to be solved 
are enormous; temperatures and pressures of stellar intensity are far 
beyond anything technologists and engineers have hitherto tried to tame. 
Even research costs are skyrocketing. Governments seem unable to afford 
present and prospective costs, and fusion budgets are declining. 

If fusion power ever does become a possibility, it will not be without 
problems. Although a virtually infinite supply of fuel is claimed by fusion 
enthusiasts, in fact the reactors now being invented will fuse deuterium 
and tritium, the latter of which must be produced from lithium. Although 



deuterium is so abundant in seawater that it will be for all practical 
purposes infinitely available, lithium is relatively scarce, and lithium-6, the 
isotope needed for the fusion reaction, is scarcer still. Thus, once readily 
exploitable lithium ores have been used up, it will have to be obtained by 
“burning the rocks.” In short, the problem of fuel supply will not 
necessarily be abolished by the generation of fusion power. 

Producing tritium from lithium involves two other problems. 
First, production must be done in a breeder reactor. Breeder reactor 
technology is complicated and extremely dangerous;* in 1984 the 
United States abandoned the Clinch River Breeder Reactor after 
spending $1.5 billion for its development. Scientists believe a lithium- 
blanketed breeder reactor would be especially difficult to design, 
because lithium is highly reactive and even explosive. Second, even if 
the tritium is successfully produced, tritium is radioactive. Some 
tritium releases are inevitable.^ Neutrons from the deuterium-tritium 
reaction will make the containment vessel radioactive. Fusion technol- 
ogy, as presently conceived, is not clean. 

* A breeder reactor uses plutonium (instead of relatively scarce uranium-235) 
for fuel; because it simultaneously converts a surrounding blanket of 
comparatively abundant uranium-238 or thorium into more plutonium, it in 
effect creates more fuel than it burns. This essentially eliminates any concern 
that uranium supplies might run out, except in the very long term, and it 
markedly diminishes the possible side effects of uranium mining. But this 
advantage comes at a price. Breeders require reprocessing. The substances they 
produce are extremely toxic: Plutonium is the most toxic substance known. 
Some of this waste must be discarded into nuclear waste disposal sites — and a 
safe one has not been developed. The plutonium created during the fission of 
uranium, along with the unused uranium, must be extracted from the spent fuel. 
Plutonium’s extreme toxicity greatly magnifies the health hazards of a reactor 
accident or a release of radioactive materials at any other stage in the fuel cycle. 
Finally, unlike the fuels used in light-water reactors, plutonium is a material that 
can be used to manufacture weapons. Thus many thorny security issues are 
raised by the plutonium fuel cycle. 

t Although tritium, one of the radioactive isotopes of hydrogen, is less hazard- 
ous than some radionuclides, it is still extremely dangerous both because it 
cannot be fully contained — at least 0.03 percent of the total inventory in reactors 
would escape each year (Metz 1972) — and because it is especially apt to be taken 
up and concentrated in living systems (where its half-life of 12 years makes it 
dangerous for over a century). 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


It is true that other scientists envision alternative fusion technologies 
that, as far as can be determined, at this stage of their conceptualizing, would 
be clean. But some of these may never pan out. One, for example, envisions 
substituting helium-3 for tritium. Helium-3 is not radioactive. Instead of 
producing it in problematic breeder reactors (which is possible), we could 
mine it from the moon, where it is abundant. How this would provide us 
with a net energy gain, however, has not been explained. 

In fact, the potential net energy yield of a fusion reactor economy 
remains a question mark. First — just as with ordinary nuclear technol- 
ogy, only more so — starting up a fusion power system will require an 
enormous expenditure of energy. Containment and heating of the 
plasma require great quantities of energy. Especially if the efficiency of 
the fusion reactors proves to be less than the hoped-for 60%, a very 
large proportion of the power output of each reactor will have to be 
used just to keep the reactor in operation. Producing deuterium fuel 
from seawater will also require the expenditure of energy. Finally, any 
conceivable form of thermonuclear reactor technology will demand, 
in addition to lithium, large quantities of scarce minerals such as 
helium, vanadium, and niobium, many of which are not produced 
domestically. Eventually, these too would have to be extracted from 
rock at high cost in energy. Thus the net yield of energy after all costs 
are counted may be very low. 

In sum, the Promethean attempt to provide humans with inex- 
haustible stellar fire is a bold enterprise that may bring great benefits if 
it succeeds. But given the extraordinary challenges, the development 
of fusion power may take several generations, if indeed it proves 
possible at all. And the promise of thermonuclear fusion should not be 
allowed to obscure the many problems and hard choices that are 
evident even today. 

The “Energy Options ” 

With fusion energy not in sight, fossil fuel supplies finite and their 
burning a source of serious pollution, and nuclear energy a fool’s 
alternative, what are the options for humanity? One option, of course, 
is to go all out in producing ever more supplies of energy from fossil 
fuels and nuclear power, allowing carbon dioxide, radiation, and other 
pollutants to build up in the biosphere. Unfortunately, political leaders 
in many countries support this option, and none more strongly than 



Table 2-6 R & D Expenditures, Fiscal Year 1991, United 
States Government 



Nuclear fission 


Nuclear fusion 


Fossil fuels 


Source: Nucleus, Spring 1991, p. 5. Amounts are in millions of dollars. 

the United States government (see Table 2-6). The probable consequen- 
ces ofagricultural disruption and increasingstarvation, cancers, and death 
will be inflicted primarily not on people who are the decision makers 
today but on future individuals, some not yet born. Another possibility is 
to choose the opposite path: to quickly and sharply reduce the produc- 
tion of energy from fossil fuels and nuclear power, develop energy sources 
that have few or no harmful consequences, and use the energy that is 
produced far more efficiently than it is used today. This option would 
have beneficial environmental impacts, but it would involve disruptive 
changes in the way people work and live, especially in the industrialized 
world. No one takes this option seriously. A less drastic choice would be 
to (1) discontinue use of nuclear energy as a power source, (2) phase 
down the use of fossil fuels, (3) rely more heavily on natural gas — the least 
polluting and most efficient of the fossil fuels — among the fossil fuels that 
are used, (4) bring into widespread use already-available technology that 
increases energy efficiency, and (5) support research into renewable 
energy alternatives that are not yet competitive, and develop and imme- 
diately use those that are. This option would also have beneficial environ- 
mental effects, the most important of which would be to reduce the 
amount of additional radiation and carbon dioxide emitted into the 
biosphere. It would require some changes in our habits and involve some 
decentralization of energy production, but the changes themselves would 
have relatively minor effects on the advantages we obtain from energy or 
overall economic activity. What follows is a review of theoretical pos- 
sibilities for using energy more efficiently and for developing nonpollut- 
ing sources of energy. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


Conservation and Improved Efficiency 

By becoming efficient in the use of the energy we have, humanity can 
reduce the ever-escalating damage it is doing to the environment while 
giving itself more time to phase in the use of nonpolluting energy 
sources. Although cutting per capita energy use by one-half will not in 
itself be adequate to avoid global warming, one study shows that this level 
of efficiency in industrial countries can be achieved without reducing 
present standards of living (WRI 1990-91, p. 146). 

Countries already vary significantly in how much energy they con- 
sume in order to produce the same amount of economic output. The 
United States for example, uses about twice as much energy as West 
Germany and Japan to produce the same output. The Rocky Mountain 
Institute estimates that the United States can cut its electricity use by 75% 
at an average cost of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Accordingly, it is cheaper 
(on average) to improve efficiency than to produce more electricity by 
burning fossil fuels. And is far cheaper than producing more electricity by 
nuclear energy (Fickett et al. 1990, p. 66). Some utilities in the United 
States are already convinced. Sixty of them promote the use of electrically 
efficient lamps, appliances, windows, insulation, motors, and other devices 
among their customers rather than building new power plants. 
Regulators in each case allow the utility to keep part of the money saved 
via the efficiency programs, so both utility and customer gain. 

The potential and benefits of energy efficiency in some sectors of the 
economy are huge. For example, if everyone in the United States did 
nothing else but substitute currently available efficient lights for incandescent 
bulbs, utilities could avoid building power plants costing from $85 to $200 
billion to construct and $18 to $30 billion a year to operate (Fickett et al. 
1990, p. 67). Comparable savings can be obtained with efficient motors and 
superefficient appliances. (Switching to efficient motors can save 80 to 190 
billion watts; the changes pay for themselves in an average of 16 months 
(Fickett et al. 1990, p. 68). It is possible for builders to construct super-insu- 
lated homes, offices, stores, schools, and hospitals that consume as little as 10% 
of the energy needed for heating their conventional equivalents (see Box 13). 
In Sweden, new office buildings need no manufactured energy at all to take 
them through their cold winters. Sunlight, plus the heat generated by the 
people, lights, and office equipment, are sufficient to keep buildings warm 
(Bevington and Rosenfeld 1990, p. 79.) The Swedes install super insulation 
and building materials that store solar heat; the extra cost of doing so is 
partially offset by not building central heating and ventilation systems. Air 
exchangers ventilate interior space. 




Home Energy Savings 

The benefits an individual can achieve by using electricity efficiently 
are astonishing. According to Scientific American, “if a consumer replaces 
a single 75-watt bulb with an 18- watt compact fluorescent lamp that 
lasts 10,000 hours, the consumer can save the electricity that a typical 
U.S. power plant would make from 770 pounds of coal. As a result, 
about 1600 pounds of carbon dioxide and 18 pounds of sulfur dioxide 
would not be released into the atmosphere.... Alternatively, if that 
electricity were produced by an oil-fired electric plant, the compact 
fluorescent lamp would save 62 gallons of oil — enough to fuel an 
American car for a 1500-mile journey. Yet far from costing extra, the 
lamp generates net wealth and saves as much as $100 of the cost of 
generating electricity” (Fickett et al. 1990, p.74). The consumer also 
benefits personally. The bulb will cost him or her about $18.00. But 
over its lifetime, it will save that customer $57.00 (at $0.10 per kilowatt- 
hour) in electricity and replacement bulbs. 

Individuals can also achieve astonishing savings in providing energy 
to heat their homes. Superinsulated homes are standard in Sweden, for 
example. Using materials that store solar heat and superinsulation, these 
homes get all the winter heat they need by diverting hot water from 
their hot-water heaters to small heating units. In the United States, 
builders can save $1000 to $2500 on central furnaces and ventilating 
systems to pay for superinsulation; one superinsulated home in Chicago 
had a winter heating bill of $24.00 (Bevington and Rosenfeld 1990, p. 
82). But superinsulated homes are rarely built in the United States. The 
United States has been content so far to begin to attain only modest 
residential energy savings, as, for example, window manufacturers sup- 
ply more efficient low-emissivity (low-E) windows. (Americans lose as 
much heat through their windows each year as the energy equivalent 
of entire annual flow through the Alaska pipeline). 

Builders can also retrofit existing buildings. Retrofits usually obtain 
30 to 70% energy savings. Customers typically spend nothing for these 
efficiency measures. Instead, energy-services companies finance the ef- 
ficiencies and are paid back with 50 to 70% of the savings accrued from 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


the efficiency investment until their costs plus profits are achieved 
(Bevington and Rosenfeld 1990, p.78).* 

All in all, then, industrial countries can gain major efficiencies in the 
use of energy in many sectors of modern life without changes in the way 
their people live or the way they do business. It is possible to adopt them 
cost-effectively, with either a relatively quick payback of up-front costs or, 
as in the case of innovative utility programs and energy services com- 
panies, the consumers incurring of no up-front costs at all. (Southern 
California Edison, among other things, gives away compact fluorescent 
light bulbs. Its program “creates” energy at an average cost of 2 cents per 
kilowatt-hour, far less than the cost of any power plant (Fickett et al. 1990, 
p. 71). These methods of boosting efficiency cost less than any other 
method of producing power (Table 2-7). Achieving improvements in 
efficiency can also displace the buildup of seven times as much carbon 
dioxide in the atmosphere, per dollar invested, as expanding nuclear 

People in industrial countries can make greater gains in energy 
efficiency if they are willing to modify some of their living patterns. 
Consider, for example, the transportation sector — the only one in which 
highly efficient products are not yet available. Great gains in transporta- 
tion efficiency are nevertheless possible if people travel by public transit 
rather than private automobile. In the United States, a light rail vehicle 
carrying 55 passengers uses an average of 640 BTUs of energy per 
passenger per kilometer, and a bus 690. This compares to 4580 BTUs per 
passenger-km to travel by automobile (Lowe 1991, p. 59). Despite this 
fact, and despite the pollution and traffic congestion that result from 
automobile commuting, over 80% of the population commutes to work 
by private vehicle. By contrast, in Europe, where efficient rail and bus 
systems are maintained, the figure is half that. In Tokyo, only 16% 
commute by private automobile. 

* Comparable efficiencies in the transportation sector are not yet available. 
This is regrettable because, as we will see in Chapter 3, automobiles are 
major polluters and the size of the global fleet is increasing rapidly. But 
significant improvements in automobile efficiencies are possible, despite 
manufacturers’ claims to the contrary. Volvo, for example, has produced a 
prototype compact car that is designed to cost no more than and accelerates 
as rapidly as a typical compact car, meets all countries’ crashworthiness 
requirements, and achieves 63 mpg city and 81 mpg highway (WRI 
1990-91, p. 151). 



Table 2-7 Costs of Avoiding Carbon Emissions Associated 
with Alternatives to Fossil Fuels, 1989 

Fossil Fuel 


Cost 1 











Cost 2 



2.0-4. 0 



<o 3 


Wind power 










Wood power 





Solar Thermal 





(with gas) 
















cycle coal 

1 Levelized cost over the life of the plant, assuming 1989 construction costs 
and a range of natural gas prices. 

2 Compared with existing coal-fired power plant. 

^ Some energy-efficiency improvements cost less than operating a coal plant, 
so avoiding carbon emissions is actually free. 

Source: Flavin 1990a, p. 27. 

Developing countries present another story. By taking advantage of 
new, highly efficient materials and technologies, it is possible for develop- 
ing nations to increase their energy consumption more slowly than their 
growth rate. However, with their rapidly increasing populations, their 
energy use will increase no matter what they do. Moreover, most 
developing countries are investing little or nothing in efficiency. Despite 
the fact that they have no hope of financing their energy-expansion 
proposals, and despite the fact that efficiency measures would be a much 
cheaper way for them to “create” power,* developing countries have 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


shown little interest. To the extent that efficiency measures have been 
adopted, they have been adopted in the industrial world. 

Why isn’t humanity fully exploiting the possibilities for efficiency 
when doing so is clearly in not only its long-term interest but its 
short-term interest as well? The obstacles, which are institutional not 
technological, will be discussed in Part II. But a few preliminary observa- 
tions are in order here. First, there is the matter of inertia. In industrial 
countries, for example, heavy investments have already been made in 
modern infrastructures; industry and government, therefore, are reluctant 
to invest anew in energy efficiency. 1" Second, people and industry tend to 
discount future savings in favor of lower initial costs; most consumers will 
buy a cheaper item even if making a higher initial investment has a 
payback time as short as two years (Gladwell 1990, p. A3). Third, people 
and industry resist government policies to encourage conservation 
whenever those policies burden them. In the United States, for example, 
voters frequently reject increased gasoline taxes, mass-transit expendi- 
tures, land-use controls to prevent suburban sprawl, and even mandatory 
recycling measures. Industry lobbies heavily against mandatory conserva- 
tion measures. 

However, these generalizations are not always true. France, Belgium, 
the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal, and the Scandinavian countries have 
already decoupled economic growth from increased energy consump- 
tion. Germany is committed to reducing energy consumption by 25% 
over the next 15 years (Flavin and Lenssen 1991, p. 25). Japan has an 
energy manager in every industry. In Europe, public opinion seems to 
take the greenhouse effect seriously. By investing in energy efficiency, 
these countries not only slow the greenhouse effect but improve their 

* For example, it is cheaper for developing countries to replace inefficient 
motors and lighting with efficient devices, and to substitute solar-powered 
water heaters and stoves for electric ones, than to build new coal, nuclear, or 
hydroelectric central power plants. Efficiencies are even possible in the use of 
energy by the world’s poor. New, inexpensive solar cookers have been 
developed that can be produced at the village level and used in place of 
fuelwood to cook food and pasteurize water (Corman 1990, p. 206). 

t This is undoubtedly part of the reason why the United States continues to 
pour its transportation investments overwhelmingly into highways instead of 
building and maintaining transit systems and encouraging its citizens to use 



economic competitiveness. Second, not all of industry or all consumers 
make purchases on the basis of the short-term bottom line. For example, 
we have already seen that some utilities are learning to create both market 
push and market pull to influence the purchase of efficient devices. The 
majority of them pay some form of rebate to purchasers to create market 
pull; some pay suppliers rebates, creating market push (Fickett et al. 1990, 
p. 7 1). These methods seem to be effective in changing purchasing habits. 
Finally, the European experience shows that people and industry will 
accept some government policies to encourage conservation even when 
it is burdensome; high gasoline taxes, mass-transit facilities, controls on 
land development, energy standards for buildings, bicycle pathways, and 
recycling are commonplace on the continent. 

However, these encouraging developments notwithstanding, institu- 
tional obstacles are preventing efficiency measures from being adopted as fast 
or as extensively as is necessary (even in Europe). Thus, if improvements in 
energy efficiency are confined to the industrialized world (as they are, for the 
most part, today)* global changes in climatic and other environmental 
problems will probably be severe. Population growth and economic 
development in developing countries will probably result in a doubling of 
their carbon emissions per person by 2030. So even if the industrialized 
countries (including the United States) were to halve their per capita carbon 
emissions by that time, annual emissions of carbon dioxide would be 2.5 
times what they are now (Gibbons et al. 1989, p. 141). At present, global 
carbon dioxide emissions are increasing by 400 million tons each year. They 
must be reduced by 60 to 80% — to the level of the 1950s — to stabilize the 
amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Flavin and Lenssen 1991, p. 
25). Scientists have calculated that to achieve a sustainable energy system, the 
world as a whole will have to produce goods and services with one-third to 
one-half as much energy as today, and renewable energy sources must 
quadruple (Flavin and Lenssen 1991, p. 26). 

Finally, whatever the pace or extent of efficiency, it is not a panacea 
for eliminating the pollution caused by humanity’s current methods of 
energy production. For example, even if we were to succeed in cutting 
energy consumption in half, it would merely have the same effect as 
doubling the supply. Rapid population increases and economic develop- 
ment will eventually cause more energy to be used and overrun the effect 
of increased efficiency. Consequently, energy conservation alone can 

* Only China among the developing countries has implemented significant 
energy efficiencies, cutting energy required per unit of economic output by 
4.7% a year for the past decade (Chandler et al. 1990, p. 125). 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


never be more than a short-term palliative. To the extent it is adopted, 
conservation must be seen as an interim measure to avoid some global 
pollution and give humanity more time to develop nonpolluting energy 

Geothermal Power: Tapping the Heat of the Earth 

The technology 7 to use the earth s interior heat both to heat buildings 
directly and to generate large amounts of electricity is essentially in hand. 
Moreover, given that due care is taken, the environmental consequences 
of exploitation are comparatively benign. Global geothermal capacity 
increased by 16% per year from 1978 to 1985 (Corson 1990, p. 197). 
Today it produces 6 million kilowatts of electrical power. A few countries 
get a substantial portion of their electricity from geothermal sources: El 
Salvador gets 40%, Nicaragua, almost 30% (Flavin and Lenssen 1991, p. 
30). Some estimate that the United States can get as much as 10% of its 
total energy supply in the year 2000 from geothermal power. 

But geothermal power has limits. Although some countries have 
geysers, natural steam, and hot-water fields that can be exploited for 
power production, others do not. (For a variety of reasons, not all natural 
geothermal resources are available as power sources. Consider as an 
example the controversy over whether large geothermal fields should be 
developed in the United States’ only tropical rainforest in Hawaii 
(Wysham 1991, p. 12).) To produce substantial amounts of power in 
countries without these fields, artificial geothermal reservoirs must be 
created by drilling down to areas of high heat flux in basal rocks, 
fracturing the rocks, pumping in water to be heated, and then extracting 
the heat from the resulting steam. The technology for this is becoming 
available, and early experiments with the technique are promising, but 
much more research, development, and exploration must be done before 
a clear picture of the extent of geothermal resources emerges. 

The exploitation of geothermal power is also not pollution-free. The 
steam or hot water used to produce power almost always contains 
noxious gases and corrosive compounds; many wells emit significant 
quantities of radionuclides. Well blowouts sometimes occur, releasing the 
steam into the atmosphere. Environmentally compatible ways of both 
capturing and disposing of used steam and water are improving, but the 
problem is not yet solved. Another problem is that geothermal reservoirs 
must be located in geologically suitable areas, which requires that power 
be produced at some distance from markets. This means that the 
monetary and environmental costs of power transmission (as well as the 
attendant energy losses) may be considerable. (On the other hand, this 



problem can be surmounted if scientists develop materials that are super- 
conductive at temperatures that are practical to work with. “Practical” 
superconductivity would achieve more than making geothermal and 
other location-specific power sources more available. It would, in effect, 
“create” more electricity. Presently, 50% of the electricity produced is lost 
in transmission.) 

All in all, geothermal power has significant potential as an energy 
source; optimists foresee this form of energy as ultimately contributing 
more than 20% of supply. * For it to do so, more effort and money than 
are currently being invested will be needed to develop the technology for 
geothermal’s use in more areas and to overcome its minor but stubborn 
pollution problems. 


Plants are the oldest source of energy known to humans. Green plant matter 
is created in photosynthesis. Humans eat the plants containing this stored 
solar energy; they burn other plants, especially wood, to do their work. 
Traditional fuels, primarily wood, provide 40% of the energy supply of 
developing nations. The obvious problems, however, are air pollution from 
wood burning, conflict with other uses for wood, and demand for space 
(leading to potential conflict with needs for food and fiber or, at least, for 
living room). Unfortunately, as we have seen, many nations are destroying 
their forests faster than they are replacing them. Out of hunger for energy, 
people are continuing the ancient pattern of reducing forested mountains to 
bare rock skeletons. In fact, this pattern is prominent today in many poorer 
countries, where the populace ravages the land for wood fuel. 

Deriving energy from biomass, however, is usually distinguished from 
the burning of fiielwood. It refers to converting a variety of plant 
materials into efficient fuels without producing pollution. First, the 
source plant material must be grown sustainably, so that the amount of 
carbon dioxide produced when the plant is processed and burned is the 
same as that which was consumed as the plant grew. Second, the fuel must 
burn without creating other kinds of pollution. The production of 
ethanol from sugar cane residues satisfies these requirements and is a 
major industry in Brazil. Ethanol can power existing motor vehicles with 
minor modifications of their engines. In 1986, ethanol supplied half of 

* Geothermal’s potential could be still higher if, in addition to achieving 
practical superconductivity, it were possible to develop the technology to 
extract energy from underground masses of hot rock. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


Brazils automotive fuel (Corson 1990 , p. 211 ). Another possibility is to 
gasify plant materials. The gas can power turbines, and its use would be 
considerably less polluting than that of fossil fuels. Gasifier-gas-turbine 
plants are only at the theoretical stage. But scientists have calculated that 
75% of Africa’s current electrical capacity can be generated by using plant 
wastes alone (Flavin and Lenssen 1991 , p. 29 ). 

Unfortunately, biomass energy has a significant disadvantage as an 
energy source: the scarcity of its resource base. With other solar tech- 
nologies, as we shall see, the fuel (sun, wind, or water) is plentiful and 
renewable. What is required of technology is the ability to harness the 
energy in the fuel. But although plants are also plentiful and renewable, 
biomass fuel is not. One possibility is to grow energy plantations. But in 
a world where there will be insufficient food and fiber for rapidly 
growing populations, diverting agricultural land for this purpose seems 
unlikely to win approval. Even some developed countries, such as those 
in Western Europe, where an adequate food supply is not a problem, do 
not have enough land available to grow large amounts of biomass. 
Alternatively, biomass will rely on plant residues. However, many of these 
residues are presently plowed back into the soil to enhance soil fertility. 
Diverting it to other purposes will only reduce agricultural yields. In 
Nepal, the diversion of biomass from the fields has reduced grain yields 
by 15% (Corson 1990, p. 151). 

Biomass, then, has some limited potential as a future energy source. 
Some of the support for biomass is based on its capacity to produce 
alcohol, which can be used in (modified) gasoline engines. But there isn’t 
enough free land or plant residues in the world to power today’s vehicle 
fleet, to say nothing of one expected to double in 30 years. A more 
realistic possibility is that biomass (mostly wood, cane sugar, and beverage 
industry wastes) will supply the alcohol for an alcohol-gasoline mixture 
(gasohol). This gasohol could be used as a transitional vehicle fuel, 
reducing pollution until some other means of powering motor vehicles is 


An established technology that relies on a theoretically renewable, inex- 
haustible source of energy is hydropower. About 20% of the electricity of 
the world is generated from falling water. Norway obtains 50% of its 
electric power from hydro. 

Hydroelectric power’s theoretical capacity has also hardly been 
tapped. Whereas North America had developed 60% of its large-scale 
hydroelectric potential in 1980, Europe had developed only 36%, Asia 



9%, Latin America 8%, and Africa 5%. Developing countries have made it 
a priority to expand hydroelectric capacity since that time. From 1980 to 
1985, 31 developing countries doubled their capacity. But even with this 
doubling, the hydroelectric potential in developing countries is 10 times 
what is currently being generated. 

Hydropower, however, is not without adverse environmental effects. 
As we will discuss in Chapter 3, the large dams many countries have been 
building spread diseases. The reservoirs, which are usually too deep and 
sterile to support fish, often expand the breeding grounds for the carriers 
of malaria, schistosomiasis, and river blindness. The large dams also 
inundate forests, farms, and wildlife habitats; entire species of plants and 
animals have been wiped out in submerged areas. Many people upstream 
of the dam are physically displaced, and their way of life may be destroyed. 
Silting is a serious problem, reducing the storage capacity and power 
potential of the dams over time, and depriving the soils downstream of 
the fertilization that comes from silt-bearing floodwater. As a result, the 
people who have farmed or fished downstream of the dam in these 
floodwaters for millennia are dispossessed of their food supply. Their way 
of life may also be destroyed. 

Hydropower, therefore, cannot be developed to its full theoretical 
potential. But with due care to limit its environmental effects, it still has 
much room for growth. Projects using small dams and reservoirs have 
fewer adverse ecological effects, and their disruptive effects on human 
populations are more manageable. China may provide something of a 
model of what can be done; it has built over 86,000 small hydroelectric 
projects that provide some power to almost every province in the country 
(Corson 1990, p. 197). By itself, however, small-scale hydroelectric power 
generates relatively small amounts of electricity, and the potential varies 
greatly with locality. Therefore, small-scale power production from water 
can be only a minor part of the answer to the needs of an energy-inten- 
sive industrial civilization. 

Solar Power: The Ultimate “Fuel” 

In the final analysis, almost all the energy available to people is solar. Fossil 
fuels are simply the stored legacy of past photosynthesis; the fissionable 
elements were formed in a solar furnace; and a thermonuclear fusion 
reactor is essentially a miniature sun. However, the term solar power 
ordinarily refers to the use of the direct energy of the sun s rays via solar 
heat collectors or photovoltaic conversion cells and to the exploitation of 
the indirect results of solar heating — falling or moving water, wind, 
natural heat traps, and photosynthesis. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


Hydroelectric power is a form of solar energy and is renewable: The 
suns heat evaporates water which falls as rain, which flows into rivers. 
The dams hold back and channel the energy of the falling water to rotate 
turbines. But hydroelectric power differs in a critical way from the new 
solar technologies. Whereas hydroelectric projects can have serious en- 
vironmental effects; the new technologies have inconsequential ones. 
Biomass also differs critically from other new solar technologies; it alone 
does not rely on an ample resource base. Thus only the new solar 
technologies would appear to be appropriate sources of energy for 
humanity’s long-term future. 

The problem with solar energy is that it is difficult to harness. It is 
also diffuse, unequally distributed around the globe, and variable with 
season and weather, and some forms of it are available only in limited 
quantities during any given period. Nevertheless, the total amount of 
solar energy is so huge that harnessing even a fraction of it could satisfy 
the energy requirements of humanity.* 

Wind Power 

Wind power already appears to be an almost perfect energy source. 
Uniquely among the new solar technologies, it is economically competi- 
tive with energy produced from fossil fuels. It can produce electricity 
more cheaply than the most efficient nuclear power plant. 1660 mega- 
watts of wind-generating capacity was installed worldwide in the 1980s, 
85% of it in California. The California windmills in 1991 produced 
electricity at 5 cents per kilowatt hour, the same cost as electricity 
produced from a new coal plant. Moreover, in contrast to a coal plant, 
which takes years from the design stage to the production of electricity, 
today’s windmills can be mass-produced and can be properly sited and 
“on line” in a matter of months. According to the U.S. Department of 
Energy, advances in windmill technology are expected to bring the cost 
of wind power down to 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour at good sites within 
the next 20 years (Weinberg and Williams 1990, p. 148). 

Plenty of good sites are available for wind-generated electricity. In 
the United States, 90% of these are in 12 contiguous mountain and plain 
states, where windmills can be placed on ranches and farms without 
disturbing present agricultural activities. In California, cattle graze under 

* The amount of solar energy theoretically available is staggering. Each year the 
earth receives about 5000 Q (5 X 10 18 BTU) from the sun. By contrast, humans 
have thus far consumed only about 1 5 Q of fossil fuel! 



existing wind machines while the ranchers reap royalties for the use of 
their land. Scientists have calculated that enough electricity to meet the 
entire electrical needs of the United States could theoretically be 
generated by means of wind energy alone (Weinberg and Williams 1990, 
p. 148). To do so would require only 10% of U.S. land area and would be 
compatible with existing (mostly agricultural) uses. 

Scientific obstacles to this development still exist, however. (There 
are political obstacles as well. These are discussed in Part II.) Wind- 
generated energy is intermittent. Therefore, using wind power can save 
the fossil fuels that would otherwise be needed to generate the same 
power in conventional power plants and can make it unnecessary to build 
the conventional power plants needed to supply electricity in periods of 
peak demand. But wind power cannot serve as an exclusive power source. 
Base-line power must be generated by some other method. One way 
around this limitation, which affects most solar technologies,* is to 
develop much better methods for storing electricity. Batteries, at least 
batteries of the types currendy in use, clearly will not do. One promising 
method is to use electricity to compress air into underground storage. 
When energy is needed, the air is released from the cavern, heated, and 
funneled through turbines to produce power. This method is 70% effi- 
cient and is already in use in Germany. 

Another difficulty with wind-generated electricity is the same one 
we observed with geothermal power and affects most of the other new 
solar technologies: the cost (in dollars and energy losses) of transmitting 
the power produced from rural locations in relatively unpopulated areas 
to urban areas in distant states where local demand for electricity is high. 
Apart from research on superconductivity, another approach to solving 
this problem is to develop a “hydrogen economy,” the technology for 
which is unfolding. 

In sum, scientists are surmounting the technical obstacles to full 
exploitation of wind-generated electricity. As they do, wind power can 
become a major provider of electricity in many countries. Production of 
wind power causes no pollution. It takes up land, but most of the land can 
be used for other purposes simultaneously. Noise used to be a problem, 

* Hydroelectric power and biomass use stored energy as needed; thus their 
power is not intermittent except in extreme situations. In the case of 
hydropower, when seasonal variations in water availability can be anticipated, 
electrical power can be used to pump water up into the reservoirs in good times, 
to be used in periods of droughts. These pumped hydroelectric storage systems 
achieve about 70% efficiency (Flavin and Lenssen 1991, p. 30). 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


but modern wind turbines are quiet. About the only remaining environ- 
mental damage done is that birds sometimes fly into the windmills and 
are killed. 

Solar Thermal Power 

Solar thermal power is also a promising new technology. It uses collectors 
to track the sun and collect its heat. That heat warms a fluid up to 
3000°C, and that fluid is then used in a power-generation cycle. The Luz 
Corporation has built commercial solar thermal facilities in California’s 
desert northeast of Los Angeles. These facilities produce 350 megawatts of 
power at 8 cents per kilowatt-hour with 95% reliability. This far exceeds 
the capabilities of new nuclear plants, which produce power at 13 cents 
per kilowatt hour with 60% reliability. It only slightly exceeds the cost of 
producing electricity at coal-fired plants, which costs 6 to 8 cents per 
kilowatt-hour on average — a figure that does not however, include the 
costs of lost productivity, health-care expenses, and cleanup of coal’s 
environmental pollution. 

Like wind power, solar thermal components can be mass-produced. 
Their production costs are likely to come down further over time. Also 
like a wind facility, a solar thermal plant takes only months to construct. 
Luz constructed one plant in nine months. A coal plant takes 6 years to 
come on line; a nuclear plant can take up to 15 years. 

Solar thermal plants are practical only in sunny and mostly sunny 
areas. The full exploitation of solar thermal power, therefore, can occur 
only as the technology for efficient electrical transmission and storage 
capabilities continues to develop. Solar thermal power, however, itself 
provides a means for storing electricity. Sun-tracking mirrors can con- 
centrate tremendous heat in water, oil, and bedrock during hot summer 
months; 85% of the stored heat can be recovered later for use as a heat or 
power source. 

Solar thermal plants render the land they occupy unavailable for most 
other uses. But they do not take up more land than conventional power 
sources, if one includes the land used for mining or drilling for the fuels 
that conventional facilities require. Solar thermal plants also don’t pollute. 
The only “pollution” associated witn them occurs in the manufacture of 
some of their high-tech components. 

Ocean Energy 

Another emerging solar technology is ocean thermal energy conversion 
(OTEC). The principle of OTEC has been understood for many years; it 



can best be described as an air conditioner in reverse. An air conditioner 
uses electricity to create a difference in temperature; OTEC uses the 
difference in ocean temperatures between surface and deep water to 
create electricity. Several countries have built small prototype OTEC 
plants. The technology, however, will work most efficiently with large 
central power stations wherever there is at least a 20° C difference be- 
tween surface and deep ocean waters. These plants are expected to 
produce power at a cost of 7 cents per kilowatt-hour (Corson 1990, p. 

When it is developed, island countries with population centers close 
to the sea can profit most from OTEC technology. There are 300 
population centers close to ocean waters that have sufficient differences 
in temperature for OTEC, theoretically, to work. Many of these coun- 
tries, such as Japan, are short on natural resources; they now import 
almost all of their fossil fuels. The “fuel” of OTEC, seawater, is plentiful. 
Governments and utilities have drawn up plans to build or are already 
constructing commercial OTEC plants off the coasts ofjapan, Tahiti, and 
Bali (Penney and Bharathan 1987, p. 87). 

OTEC is unique among the new solar technologies in that it is not 
intermittent; its fuel, the difference between seawater temperatures, varies 
only slightly from day to day. (Seasonally, its greatest potential is in the 
summer, when power demands are highest.) Hence it does not depend 
on the development of new electrical storage technologies. OTEC is also 
pollution-free. In fact, OTEC s by-products are one of the main argu- 
ments for developing the technology (The Economist 1987, p. 94). One 
by-product is fresh water, formed when steam is condensed by the cold 
seawater. Another is aquaculture, which can be sustained by the rich 
nutrients in the cold seawater that is pumped into an OTEC plant and 
then discharged at the ocean surface. 

OTEC does have some remaining technical problems. It is inefficient, 
converting only about 3% of the heat energy to power, compared with 35% 
in conventional power plants (The Economist 1987, p. 94). In one sense, this 
doesn’t matter; OTEC s fuel is practically infinite. But to take advantage of 
this bounty of seawater requires enormous heat exchangers that will resist 
corrosion and fouling, and it requires the means to pump and pipe huge 
amounts of cold water from the ocean s depths (Penney and Bharathan 1987, 
pp. 89-90, 92). Keeping a plant seaworthy under all storm conditions and 
sufficiently immobile to attach an electrical cable to it are two other 
problems. These problems are being solved, but it is clear that more research 
is needed before OTEC can be used widely. 

Other ways of harnessing energy via seawater are also under develop- 
ment. Norway has built two small wave-power plants. At least one is 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


financially viable, and a Norwegian company is selling the machine 
commercially. British engineers have designed a large wave power plant 
weighing 23,000 tons and intended to be located underwater, in the sea 
bed. The plant will operate on the same principle as the Norwegian 
plants: Oscillating water that rises and falls inside a cylinder will generate 
air pressure, which in turn will power a turbine to produce large amounts 
of electricity. France has built a tidal power plant that can generate 240 
megawatts of electricity (Corson 1990, p. 198). These technologies, like 
OTEC and other renewables, produce no acid rain, no carbon dioxide 
buildup, and no radioactivity. Thus they would seem to have good 
long-term potential. 


The ultimate energy source is photovoltaic energy. Photons (indivi- 
dual particles of light) from the sun are absorbed in a semiconductor 
to displace electrons and produce a current. Once installed, they need 
no maintenance and there are no operational costs. They require no 
water or wind, cause no noise, and, unlike other new solar tech- 
nologies, can be placed close to all users of electricity, even those who 
are in partly cloudy locations. They can be constructed in small units; 
using current technology, a 40-square-meter array on a south-facing 
roof in a locality receiving an average amount of sunlight in the 
United States can supply all the electricity needed by that household 
(Weinberg and Williams 1990, p. 149). Or they can be built in large 
arrays to provide a central source of power for utility companies. PV 
arrays can be constructed relatively quickly (though not so fast as 
windpower or solar thermal units). A small array can be built in less 
than a year, a large array in less than two. 

Their disadvantage, so far, is price. The price of PV power has 
declined dramatically in the past 20 years, from $60 per kilowatt hour in 
1970 to 20 to 30 cents per kwh in 1990 (Weinberg and Williams 1990, p. 
149). These declines were achieved despite minuscule government re- 
search support. But at these prices, PV power is still about five times more 
expensive than conventional power. Its use is justified predominantly in 
remote commercial or home applications and military and communica- 
tions facilities where power fines are not available. Some developing 
countries find PV power economically justified in rural electrification 

Still, PV power is expected to continue to achieve further dramatic 
declines in price in the near future. Further technological breakthroughs 
may be possible. For example, scientists have developed solar cells in the 



Table 2-8 Land Use of Electricity-Producing Technologies in 
the United States 


Land Occupied 
(Square meters 
per gigawatt-hr. 
over 30 years) 





Various; mining 
usually despoils local 


Solar thermal 


Sunny areas 




Deserts, rooftops, 
wasted building 

Depends on 



Barren grazing sites, 




Natural “hot” areas 


Coal figure includes coal mining sites. Wind includes turbines and service 

Source: Adapted from Flavin and Lenssen 1991, p. 36. 

laboratory that cost about one-tenth as much as cells currently on the 
market (Weinberg and Williams 1990, p. 150). Being one-fiftieth the 
thickness of a human hair, these cells use only tiny amounts of raw 
materials, and they can potentially be mass-produced. Other laboratories 
have built solar cells that are 35% efficient, comparable to the efficiency 
of conventional power plants. It seems only a matter of time before at 
least some of this (and other) laboratory research materializes in market- 
able products. 

PV power is not a competitive source of electric power — yet. But 
because it can be installed in a variety of applications and arrays, it is the 
most flexible solar technology with the greatest long-term potential. In 
addition, once in operation it causes no pollution. PV power generation 
does require space for its solar arrays. Land used for PV is not generally 
available for other purposes. On the other hand, the land required for PV 
is less than that required for conventional power, when mining, transpor- 
tation, and waste-disposal are considered. All of the electricity the United 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


States currently consumes could be supplied by PV arrays taking up 
0.37% of the land area of the country (Weinberg and Williams 1990, p. 
149)/ Furthermore, a substantial amount of space needed for PV power 
will not be on land at all; it will be on rooftops and other such structures. 
In Spain and Italy, the government is funding rooftop installations on 

PV energy is intermittent. It produces no power at night and little on 
overcast days. Thus, for humanity to fully exploit PV power requires 
improved energy-storage technology. In this respect, PV energy is like 
wind and solar thermal energy. 

The Hydrogen Economy 

The technology to store large amounts of electricity is being de- 
veloped in parallel with the development of renewable energy sources. 
We have previously noted the possibilities of compressed-air and 
high-temperature (solar) thermal storage. An even more promising 
technology is solar hydrogen. Energy from the sun can generate 
electricity, which can be passed from one electrode to another in 
water. The process splits water into two parts hydrogen and one part 
oxygen. The hydrogen can be burned in place of oil, coal, and natural 
gas. It can also be transported to distant locations where it is needed, 
much as natural gas is today 

Hydrogen is an extraordinarily clean-burning fuel. Unlike fossil fuels, it 
emits no carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulates, volatile organic 
compounds, or sulfur dioxide. To burn hydrogen is simply to recombine it 
back with oxygen to produce water. Combustion also produces small 
amounts of nitrogen oxides, which catalytic converters can almost complete- 
ly eliminate. 

Because hydrogen can be stored in tanks and transported through 
pipelines to where it is needed, humans can substitute a hydrogen 
economy for one based on fossil fuels. Hydrogen will allow solar- 
generated power to be used in places and at times dissociated from when 
the sun is shining or the wind blowing. Scientists have projected that PV 
cells can be located in desert locations to manufacture the hydrogen, 
because the annual rainfall that most deserts get supplies more water than 
is needed in electrolysis (Weinberg and Williams 1990, p. 154). Moreover, 
scientists have calculated that it will cost less to transport hydrogen by 
pipeline than it now costs to transport electricity by wire (Weinberg and 

PV arrays used to produce hydrogen can be located in unpopulated deserts. 




The Multiplex Energy Economy of the Future 

It seems likely that in the future we shall make eclectic use of many dif- 
ferent energy sources, from the age-old to the ultra-modern, in a “mul- 
tiplex energy economy.” The centralized power production charac- 
teristic of today s advanced industrial civilization is encountering 
various types of limits. Old fuels will become too noxious to burn and 
eventually run out; some new sources of energy, such as nuclear fission, 
are ecologically dangerous and socially problematic; and other promis- 
ing new forms of energy supply, such as geophysical or solar power, 
need not fit exclusively into the current system. Energy from all sources 
will no longer be so cheap and abundant as it has been. The result will 
be a tendency toward (1) greater decentralization and energy self-suf- 
ficiency and (2) intensive exploitation of every nonpolluting source of 
energy (combined with scrupulous conservation). 

The possibilities for greatly increased energy self-sufficiency are vir- 
tually endless. Roofs can hold solar collectors and small windmills, 
small water turbines in local streams can produce electricity, local un- 
derground heat can be tapped, and so on. In India today, village 
children collect cow dung and other organic wastes to produce 
methane gas, which yields the villages’ electricity supply. The do-it- 
yourself home techniques that are now being pioneered by “soft” tech- 

Williams 1990, p. 153), so desert production of electricity should be 
practical. (In addition, wind-generated electricity can be used to produce 
hydrogen. As we have seen, windmills can be sited in agricultural areas 
without adverse effects.) In some cases, existing natural gas pipelines can 
be used as part of the (wind or) PV-hydrogen s distribution network. 

Hydrogen does pose problems, however. Most often mentioned is its 
explosiveness. But in fact, hydrogen does not pose a greater danger of 
exploding than does natural gas; although accidents occur, users have 
learned how to handle it. For example, hydrogen has been used safely 
since the 19th century as “town gas” to heat homes. Industries have also 
developed processes for handling hydrogen harmlessly in a variety of 
commercial applications, such as making ammonia, fertilizer, dyes, and 
rocket fuels. An important limitation of hydrogen is that it does not 
readily substitute for gasoline as a motor vehicle fuel. Compared to 
gasoline, hydrogen has both a low density of energy and a low density of 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


nologists should become at least one aspect of our future energy 
economy even if, as will probably be the case, most electricity and 
other forms of energy will still be centrally generated to run cities, fac- 
tories, mass transit, and the like. 

In addition, we can probably expect energy sources to be much 
more varied than they now are. For example, we will see windmills on 
farms, grasslands, and mountain passes, solar collectors in deserts, small 
hydroelectric projects on rivers and streams, and OTEC and wave 
projects offshore. Small biomass facilities will be located in the villages 
of developing countries and near forests and sugar plantations. No safe 
source of energy will go unexploited. It is likely that wastes of all 
kinds — industrial, commercial, residential, agricultural, silvacultural — 
will be much more widely reused to achieve energy efficiency, burned 
to produce heat, or distilled to produce gaseous and liquid fuels, 
making a modest but locally significant contribution to the energy 
supply. In some areas, draft animals seem likely to be retained, even 
though their upkeep often requires heavy energy expenditure, for in 
many cases the alternative to draft animals is human labor. 

We seem, then, to be headed for a kind of multiplex, two-tier ener- 
gy economy in which centralized, industrial power production will sup- 
port certain key sectors but in which individuals and localities, employ- 
ing a curious combination of pre-modern and post-industrial means, 
will be important players in meeting humanity’s energy needs. 

power (Bleviss and Walzer 1990, p. 106). The former limits the range and 
load of a hydrogen-powered vehicle, the latter its ability to accelerate 
(Bleviss and Walzer 1990, p. 106). These problems do not seem insur- 
mountable, but they have not yet been conquered. * A few automobile 
manufacturers are working to develop hydrogen-powered cars, but unlike 

* One possible solution is to generate electricity by combining hydrogen and 
oxygen in a fuel cell, a chemical reaction that produces no nitrogen oxides. The 
generated electricity would fuel still-to-be-developed electric motor vehicles. 
Another possibility is to produce methanol from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. 
Methanol, like ethanol, can fuel motor vehicle engines directly or can be 
combined with gasoline to produce another type of gasohol. This “solution,” 
however, creates a serious pollution problem: The combustion of methanol 
produces formaldehyde, a carcinogen (Schmidt-Perkins 1989, p. 21). 



the case with fuel-efficient and electric models, they have not yet pro- 
duced prototypes. 

This drawback, however, should not detract from hydrogen’s prac- 
ticality in other energy applications. Hydrogen both stores and trans- 
ports solar power and thereby makes solar power available when and 
where it is needed.* It is a means of converting solar electricity into 
alternating current, a more usable form of electricity. It is also a means 
of converting electrical energy into gaseous or liquid fuel, which is 
important because only about 25 percent of our current energy needs 
are supplied in the form of electricity. A solar-hydrogen economy, if 
combined with the efficient use of energy and perhaps with less ex- 
travagant transportation patterns, offers the hope of meeting humanity's 
energy needs. The manufacture of some solar collectors may involve a 
small amount of pollution. But compared to the processes, methods, and 
effects of energy production today, solar-hydrogen is virtually inex- 
haustible and pollution-free. 

Energy, Heat, and Climate 

Although progress toward a solar-hydrogen economy has been made, and 
such an arrangement will undoubtedly be in humanity's long-term 
future, the critical question is whether its present limitations will be 
surmounted in time to avoid extensive environmental degradation and 
human suffering. The answer to that question is still uncertain. Solar 
technology requires more research and development support than it is 
getting; as Table 2-6 shows, research is grossly biased in favor of fossil fuels 
and the nuclear option. Other than sheer inertia, this probably reflects the 
fact that solar energy, unlike fossil fuels or uranium, is not a resource that 
can be owned. Moreover, some forms of it (such as rooftop collectors) 
initially appeared to lend themselves primarily to local and perhaps even 
individual exploitation, which is of no interest to gigantic regionally 
oriented utilities. As we have seen, this perception is no longer accurate; 
with hydrogen as a storage and transportation mechanism, solar collectors 
can be located in deserts, wind farms can be located in agricultural areas, 

* Hydrogen actually complements the weaknesses of solar-generated electrical 
power. For example, PV power is in the form of low-voltage direct current, but 
today’s machinery and appliances run on high-voltage alternating current. One 
solution is to redesign applications, where possible, to work on low-voltage 
direct current. But the alternative is to use the low-voltage power to make 
hydrogen, for which it is ideally suited, and later to bum the hydrogen to 
produce high-voltage alternating current. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy' 


and ocean energy can be tapped in offshore locations. All solar tech- 
nologies are adaptable to either local or central production facilities. 

How much time humanity has before it must develop solar energy is 
also uncertain. The impact on climate is the ultimate limit on human 
energy use, a limit that no amount of technological ingenuity can remove. 
Ever since humans became technological beings by inventing fire, they 
have significantly altered the climate of the earth, creating semiarid 
savannahs where once there were grasslands. Nevertheless, the impact of 
industrial humanity on global climate is potentially far greater, for the 
continuation of certain current trends could render the earth quite 
literally uninhabitable by the human race and most other species as well. 
But we do not really know what we are doing to climatic mechanisms. In 
effect, with only minimal theoretical knowledge, we are running an 
enormous experiment on the global climate. By discharging carbon 
dioxide, particulates, chlorofluorocarbons, and other substances into the 
atmosphere, we are tampering with the watch-like perfection of the 
global climate system, not understanding clearly how it works or what 
the consequences of our actions will be. Worse still, as with the des- 
truction of the ozone layer, some of our actions are producing visible 
consequences just as we come to understand what we have wrought. 
Now, any remedy we try is too little and too late to halt the inevitable and 
worsening effects. In the United States alone, 12,000,000 skin cancers 
will result and 200,000 people will die from just this intrusion on climate 
mechanisms. All life on earth will suffer harm from intense ultraviolet 
radiation, and some sensitive organisms crucial to global ecology will pro- 
bably succumb * 

Most scientists are now predicting that our emissions of greenhouse 
gases will result in global warming. But again, humanity does not know 
what it is doing. We do not know how much or how fast this warming 
wall occur; we do not know how much it will alter our capacity to grow 

* It was once thought that the release of human-made heat might also disturb 
the mechanisms of climate balance. The second law of thermodynamics ordains 
that all forms of energy must inevitably decay into low-grade heat, so energy use 
and heat release are ultimately synonymous. However, the extra heat due to 
human use of energy now appears to be pitifully small compared to the total 
energy flow involved in the global heat balance (the flow of human-made heat 
is only about 1/15,000 or 1/20,000 the absorbed solar flux). It appears that it 
would take 200 years at a 5% growth rate in fossil, fission, and fusion fuel 
production for humanity to produce enough heat to cause noticeable global 
warming. This is extremely unlikely, for all the reasons we have cited, and so 
the heat we are now putting into the atmosphere is not likely to be a problem. 




The Thermodynamic Economy 

Although the currency of nature s economy is energy, the current 
human economy takes energy into account only indirectly, via the 
monetary cost of energy production and use. It is therefore in conflict 
with basic laws governing our physical existence. The laws of ther- 
modynamics tell us that we cannot get something for nothing. The mat- 
ter and energy (which are thermodynamically interchangeable) from 
which we derive economic benefit have to come from somewhere, and 
the inevitable residuals remaining after we have obtained the benefits 
have to go somewhere. Unless the thermodynamic cost of obtaining 
the energy and disposing of the residuals is less than the benefits of the 
use to which the energy is put, the system as a whole loses. Thus a 
“thermodynamic economy” based directly on an accounting of energy 
or entropy has become essential, for otherwise social decisions based on 
traditional economic criteria will continue to compromise the system 
through so-called externalities, or side effects, that create more 
entropy — increased disorder or reduced energetic potential — in the sys- 
tem as a whole. 

The basic insight of thermodynamic economics is that entropy is 
the real basis of economic scarcity. There is a fundamental difference be- 
tween classical scarcity and thermodynamic scarcity — that is, between a 
scarcity of land and other reusable or flow resources such as solar radia- 
tion and a scarcity of coal or other nonrenewable resources that, once 
used, are gone forever (or can be recycled only with limited efficiency 
and at a high cost in energy). Thus, says the thermodynamic economist, 
our nonrenewable resources are exceedingly precious capital stocks that 
can never be recreated, so to waste them or even to expend them 
primarily on current consumption is absurd, no matter how rational it 
may be in terms of dollars and cents. 

In practical terms, what this means is that we are eroding 26 billion 
tons of topsoil every year; we have destroyed half of our tropical rain 
forests; we have polluted most of our rivers and lakes and some of our 
groundwater; and the planet has become one-third desert. Yet none of 
this counts when a country calculates its gross national product. Perver- 
sely, it also means, for example, that the Exxon Valdez oil spill improved 
the United States’ economic performance. After all, Exxon spent bil- 
lions of dollars on the cleanup; it created jobs and consumed resources. 

Population, Food, Mineral Resources, and Energy 


What to do about this is being debated. Economists have focused 
on schemes of natural resource accounting, a century-old idea that 
originated with Alfred Marshall (1842-1924). Germany is attempting 
to calculate a green gross national product. The task is difficult. For ex- 
ample, the Germans can easily calculate the revenue loggers have lost 
because pollution has killed much of the Black Forest. It is more dif- 
ficult to calculate the value of lost plants, lost animals, lost whole 
species, lost ecosystems, and lost habitats resulting from forest destruc- 
tion. Forests also clean the air, conserve soil, purify water, and provide 
recreational opportunities. Some American economists have devised a 
way to deal with some of these problems: an “index of sustainable 
economic welfare” that incorporates goods and services provided by 
the environment into economic accounting (Daly and Cobb 1989, p. 
401). Thus we know how much a sewage plant costs to build and 
operate. If the forest performs the same service “free,” Daly and Cobb s 
suggestion is that the forest provides the equivalent value of the sewage 
plant. Other economists propose panel interviews to determine what 
forests or species (and so on), are worth to samples of people. However 
these matters are ultimately resolved, certain preliminary conclusions 
have already emerged. First, it will never pay humanity to run a com- 
pletely technological world, as some extreme technological visionaries 
urge, for life support is cheap if we let nature do it and fantastically ex- 
pensive if we take on this burden ourselves. Second, even though collec- 
tion and conversion percentages may be quite low compared to some 
of humanity’s engineering creations, and despite the apparendy greater 
economic costs, when pollution and all the other thermodynamic costs 
are considered, solar energy and other forms of decentralized energy 
production are actually more efficient than methods based on using up 
nonrenewable resources and are therefore a thermodynamic bargain. 
Third, human labor may become thermodynamically cheaper than 
capital or other factors of production; industry may therefore become 
increasingly labor-intensive. Similarly, less energy-intensive materials 
such as wood and steel will displace such materials as aluminum, which 
are highly energy- and capital-intensive. In short, a thermodynamic (or, 
to put this concept in its proper context, sustainable) economy would 
aim at careful husbandry of resources, dependence on natural flows and 
processes, decentralization, more labor-intensive production, and a com- 
bination of ultra-sophisticated technology with some of the energy- 
saving methods that sustained our forebears. 



food, how much it will shift areas of endemic disease, and the like. We 
don’t know how able we will be in coping with its effects. We do know a 
few things, however. First, if climate change does cause death, disease, and 
human suffering, anything we try to stop it then will be woefully 
inadequate. Second, if climate change produces unacceptable consequen- 
ces and forces humanity to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions, 
the costs of doing so will be higher than what it would have cost to 
develop renewable energy sources before that time. Unfortunately, the 
standard wisdom of the economic and political elite in the United States 
is that, as far as energy is concerned, we must have more of the same: 
more fossil fuel production and more development of nuclear power. 
Government funds pour overwhelmingly in the direction of supporting 
these technologies — by research, by direct subsidies, even by military 
means where necessary. 




Deforestation, the Loss of 
Biodiversity, Pollution, the 
Management of 
Technology, and an 
Overview of Ecological 

So far, we have discussed the components of ecological scarcity that 
became apparent in the 1960s and 1970s: the exploding growth in human 
population, the difficulty of fulfilling expanding demand for food when 
the supply of agricultural land cannot keep up (and is being lost), the 
depletion of essential minerals, and the limits to satisfying the growing 
demand for energy by relying on sources that are both finite and pollut- 
ing. But in the 1980s, observers recognized that these are not our only 
difficulties. Human demands on the environment are causing the 
problems shown in Table 3-1. Thus by the year 2000, according to 
projections, the growth in human population and activities will eliminate 
not only one-sixth of our grain land per person and one-tenth of our 
irrigated land, but nearly one-fifth of our forest and grazing land per 
person. These losses will occur in just one decade. In addition, human 
activities are causing increased pollution of the air, water, and land — and 
even of the stratosphere — despite expensive pollution-control efforts 
over the past two decades. 





Table 3-1 Basic Natural Resources Per Person with Projected 
Population Growth 





Percent Decline 
in One Decade 

Grain land 




Irrigated land 




Forest land 




Grazing land 




Source: Adapted from Brown 1991, p. 17. 

In Chapter 1, we mentioned the extent and futility of the destruction 
of tropical forests. What follows is an expanded discussion of tropical 
deforestation and the resulting loss of habitats and biological diversity. 
Thereafter, we turn our attention to the dangers of pollution. What these 
topics bring into sharper focus is the futility of expecting technology to 
solve the problem of ecological scarcity, at least in a timely way. As we 
shall see, our problem is that we are putting stresses on the environment 
in a multitude of ways. Technology may be able to offer solutions, at 
acceptable costs and with acceptable side effects, to one or another of 
these problems. (For example, a technological solution to our energy 
problem is within reach, and technologists may develop substitutes for 
some scarce minerals in time, such as fiber optics in place of copper.) But 
all-encompassing solutions do not seem to be within reach. And some 
problems seem insoluble. No one has yet suggested technological crea- 
tion of an ecosystem or complete habitat, and we shall see that tech- 
nological pollution control is at best a temporary tactic that will only 
make the growth in human activities possible a while longer. 

Tropical Deforestation 

Moist tropical forests may once have covered 1.5 billion hectares, an area 
twice the size of the continental United States (Corson 1990, p. 118). At 
present, fewer than 900 million hectares remain. The rate at which 
tropical forests are being destroyed is increasing dramatically. The Food 
and Agricultural Organization estimated in 1980 that the annual rate of 
tropical deforestation was 28 million acres. By 1990 that rate had in- 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


creased by 40% — to 42 million acres per year (Booth Sept. 9, 1991, p. 
A18). Some estimates of tropical forest destruction are still higher — as 
much as 50 million acres per year (WRI 1990-91, p. 102). 

The loss of tropical forests is a mark of how fast human beings are 
exterminating whole species of plants and animals, destroying watersheds, 
and affecting both regional and global climates. Tropical forests sustainab- 
ly support people and millions of plants and animals. They provide fruits, 
vegetables, spices, nuts, medicines, timber, oils, waxes, and rubber con- 
sumed by people and industry around the world. Staple grains have 
relatives of somewhat different genetic makeup in the forests; these wild 
strains have been interbred with staple crops to provide resistance to 
diseases and pests. In fact, 40% of all medicines are derived originally from 
chemicals found in tropical plants. Forests moderate air temperature, 
recycle wastes, control soil erosion, and regulate stream and river flows, 
which moderate the floods and droughts that lower agricultural yields. 
Forests take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce the 
oxygen all animals need. 

When a tropical forest is destroyed, a habitat for living things 
vanishes. Although some species can adapt to other habitats or can persist 
in diminished numbers in remaining forests, thousands of species of plants 
and animals are being wiped out each year. Human communities are also 
being destroyed. Brazil s Indian population has decreased from 6 million 
people in the sixteenth century to about 200,000 today (Corson 1990, p. 
123). Valuable products are lost. In less than 10 years, fewer than 10 
tropical forest nations will be net exporters of forest products — down 
from 33 such nations today (Corson 1990, p. 124). Deforestation also 
degrades forest soils. Unlike what occurs in forests in temperate climates, 
when leaves or trees fall or animals die in tropical forests, they do not 
nourish the forest soil. Rather, other forest organisms quickly decompose 
them, and then these creatures support other tropical life. So deforested 
soils are nutrient-poor to start off with, and they support agriculture or 
cattle ranching for only a few years. At the same time, deforestation is the 
second largest human source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, right behind 
the burning of fossil fuels. One-third of the carbon dioxide emissions that 
humans produce is caused by deforestation. In 1987 carbon dioxide 
emissions from deforestation in Brazil alone are believed to have equaled 
the total carbon dioxide emissions from all sources in the United States 
(WRI 1990-91, p. 110). 

If tropical deforestation has but temporary benefits and is self- 
destructive even over the middle term, why do people continue the 
practice? The first reason is to increase cropland. For thousands of years, 
people slashed and burned small areas of forest, farmed it for a few years, 



and moved on to a new plot. Old plots, small in size, would lie fallow for 
up to 30 years and revert to their wild state. This practice did the forest no 
harm and fed small communities. Today slash-and-burn agriculture still 
feeds people, but the way it is practiced is destroying the forests. More 
people are clearing forests more frequently and re-cultivating old fields 
too fast for them to regain their fertility. Because in many tropical 
countries a few wealthy people own most of the land (in Brazil, 7% of the 
population owns 93% of the fertile land), thousands of landless peasants, 
suffering from hunger, take to the forests to farm. Moreover, people are 
increasing cropland to produce commercial crops for export. Such crops 
as bananas, coffee, and coca bring in much-needed foreign cash to finance 
development projects or to pay off foreign debts. The government of 
Indonesia explained in a United States magazine advertisement that its 
people have the same aspirations as Americans; it must, therefore, convert 
20% of its forests to plantations to produce teak, rubber, rice, coffee, and 
other agricultural crops ( U.S . News & World Report, December 18, 1989, 

pp. 80-81). 

Second, government policies encourage large development projects, 
sometimes to resettle people from teeming cities or to build hydroelectric 
dams or roads. The people who obtain short-term benefits from these 
developments are not usually the same people who suffer from the 
harmful effects a large project may have on the environment. We have 
already seen some of the adverse environmental effects of large 
hydropower projects. 

A third reason to clear forests is to “harvest” timber. At least 5 million 
hectares of tropical forests are logged each year, mostly for timber ex- 
ported to Japan and the United States, to bring in foreign currency to 
finance development or pay foreign debts. Unfortunately, most logging 
operations are unsustainable. Even in those places where logging opera- 
tions do not destroy ecosystems, land-hungry peasants often use logging 
roads to penetrate once-inaccessible forests and burn down most of the 
remaining trees to grow crops. According to a 1988 survey of the 
International Tropical Timber Organization, timber is being produced 
sustainably on less than 1% of the exploitable tropical forests (cited in 
WRI 1990-91, p. 106). 

A fourth reason for deforestation is to create pasture for cattle. 
Two-thirds of Central America s tropical forests have been cleared, mostly 
for cattle ranching. However, Central Americans do not cut down their 
forests because they eat a lot of beef; rather, most of their beef is exported 
to the United States, to fast food chains and for pet food (Corson 1990, p. 
121). Every American hamburger for which meat was imported from 
Central America is estimated to have destroyed five square meters of 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


forest (Corson 1990, p. 121). Finally, local people destroy forests because 
they need fuelwood. Fuelwood is the primary source of energy for 
cooking and heating by 80% of the people in the world; it is scarce for 
over 1 billion people. 

Unfortunately, for reasons we have explained, once a large area is 
deforested in the tropics, it supports a few years of productivity but then 
becomes degraded. A 3-million-hectare area of the Brazilian Amazon that 
was converted into cropland in the 1880s is today a vast, uninviting, 
nonproductive expanse of scrub (Corson 1990, p. 121). Cattle pastures 
created in the 1960s have already become unproductive. In Brazil, 
government authorities have seen the futility of clearing forest for pasture 
and have stopped subsidizing it. Even so, some people still seek pasture in 
order to get title to land, to secure an inflation-free investment, and to 
gain status. Ranching merely brings in extra income. 

.. .And the Loss of Biodiversity 

Wildlife habitats are areas where nondomesticated species find the food, 
water, and other resources they need to survive. Humans have been 
converting them to their purposes since pre-agricultural times. But it is 
only since the Industrial Revolution and the colonial expansion of the 
nineteenth century that we have been destroying forests, grasslands, 
wetlands, riparian areas, mangroves, sea grasses, and coral reefs both 
rapidly and extensively (WRI 1990-91, p. 123). The area of temperate 
forests has been reduced by one-third, and most of those remaining are 
new-growth forests, which do not restore the native habitats that the 
old-growth forests provided (WRI 1990-91, p. 107). Woody savannas and 
deciduous forests have been reduced by one-fourth. Tropical forests are 
only 60% of their original size. The data for the loss of dry tropical forests, 
grasslands, and wetlands are fragmented, but what we have indicates broad 
trends. For example, in Africa and Asia, human activities have reduced 
natural grasslands to 41% of their original size (WRI 1990-91, p. 125). In 
California, 69 percent of the Central Valleys grasslands have been 
destroyed (WRI 1991, p. 125). 60% of the wetlands have been converted 
to agriculture or development in Asia, 56% in the United States (WRI 
1990-91, pp. 127-128). 26% of the mangroves in the United States and 
Puerto Rico have been destroyed. In the European heartland, few if any 
original wildlife habits remain (WRI 1990-91 p. 126). Everywhere, as we 
have seen, coral reefs are dying. 

The extinction of plant and animal species has been rising in rough 
proportion to the loss of habitats (see Figure 3-1). We may be losing up 
to 17,500 species a year (Corson 1990, p. 101). Some scientists believe we 

Number of species lost each year 



100,000 r- 

FIGURE 3-1 Estimated annual rate of species loss, 1700-2000. 

could lose 25% of the species on the planet in the next few decades, 
which would be a larger loss than any of the extinctions in geological 
history. The most threatened habitats today are those richest in species 
diversity and biological productivity, the tropical forests and the coral 
reefs. A square mile in a Peruvian lowland has twice as many butterflies as 
the entire United States and Canada; one river in Brazil has more species 
of fish than all the rivers in the United States (Corson 1990, p. 100). 

Species are becoming extinct for three reasons. First, as human 
population explodes, more habitats are converted into croplands. Hungry 
people will convert any place where crops can be grown into food 
production. Second, people introduce non-native species into new en- 
vironments; native species that do not have the appropriate defenses 
against the invader die out. Third, people overharvest desired products 
and areas. For example, tropical agroforestry, based on small plots, on the 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


intermixing of tree and soil crops, on the inclusion of domestic animals, 
and on the recycling of plant and animal wastes, is technically possible 
and would be sustainable over the long term — but it is scarcely practiced. 
Likewise, people are killing off 80,000 elephants a year, mostly to harvest 
their ivory; only 15 white African rhinos are believed to be left in the 
wild, largely because certain humans want their horns as a supposed 
aphrodisiac; and whales have been reduced below the level of commercial 
viability because some people want their oils (Corson 1990, p. 103). 

Several practical reasons exist for preserving healthy ecosystems and 
the biodiversity within them. We discussed some of these in the last 
section. (1) Wildlife performs free environmental services. Plants take 
carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen. They counteract 
greenhouse emissions. They regulate stream flows and groundwater levels, 
recycle soil nutrients, and cleanse pollutants from surface water. Both 
plants and animals degrade wastes, help to control floods and soil produc- 
tivity, and contribute to pest control. Even insects, usually regarded as 
pests, are not always so; many are important pollinators and decomposers 
of waste. (2) Wild species are the original source of over 40% of the 
chemicals used in prescription drugs (Corson 1990, p. 103). Lurking in 
one or more of the thousands of species we do not know about may be 
the cures for such diseases as AIDS and bilharzia. (3) Wild species provide 
humans with needed products and services. We have already noted how 
wild plants have made it possible to bestow immunity on cultivated crops. 
True, technologists may come up with synthetic substitutes for some of 
these products or services. Synthetic rubber, for example, has replaced 
natural rubber in two-thirds of its uses (Corson 1990, p. 104). But natural 
rubber is of better quality and is still preferred for heavy-duty applications 
such as airplane tires. And technologists seek wild plants for the genes 
needed to accomplish their goals. 

When a species is lost, it is not renewable. Its particular function or 
potential — its unique combination of genes — is gone, forever. A given 
loss may or may not have direct consequences for people. But with the 
possible loss of 1 million species by the year 2000, it would be foolish to 
assume that the whole phenomenon is inconsequential. This is another 
area where we are running a large experiment without knowing what we 
are doing. Along with this uncertainty is the effect of our greenhouse 
emissions on biodiversity 7 . If climate changes are of the magnitude that a 
majority of scientists are predicting, global warming will affect the 
location, size, and character of all wildlife habitats on the planet (WRI 
1990-91, p. 130). Many species will not be able to adapt quickly enough, 
and extinctions will dwarf any that have been predicted, because habitats 
will shift, shrink, or disappear (WRI 1990-91, p. 130). 




The Inevitability of Pollution 

Nature does not produce “pollution.” Plants grow, taking up carbon 
dioxide from the air and nitrates from the soil. They “excrete” oxygen 
into the air. Animals eat the plants, excreting carbon dioxide to the air and 
organic compounds that the plants use as fertilizer. This and other natural 
cycles repeat themselves. 

Humans, on the other hand, do produce pollution. They produce 
chemicals and products that are not found in nature and cannot be used 
(eaten) by living things, or they produce them in such great quantity as to 
overwhelm nature s ability to use them. Many dangerous forms of pollu- 
tion already abound; the intensification of agriculture and basic-resource 
production will only aggravate the problem. In fact, because virtually all 
modern techniques of production and consumption entail pollution, any 
increase in production and consumption necessarily produces a propor- 
tionate increase in pollution. The laws of physics tell us that matter and 
energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but only transformed. These 
transformation processes are never completely efficient; by-products or 
residuals are an inevitable result, and these are almost always noxious, or 
at least unwelcome, to some degree. In practice, the efficiency of in- 
dustrial practices is low. For example, the most modern fossil-fuel plant 
converts less than 40% of the energy in coal or oil into electricity. The rest 
of the energy escapes up the stack and into cooling water as heat, and 
large quantities of residuals in the form of ash and gases are produced. 
Thus pollution is the result of the operation of basic physical laws. 

Moreover, this description understates the problem. The petrochemi- 
cal industry, for example, each year produces about 600 billion pounds of 
products and 500 billion pounds of toxic chemicals, only 1% of which are 
destroyed (Commoner 1990, p. 51). But many of the “products” of this 
industry are themselves pollutants — solid or hazardous wastes, such as 
pesticides and plastics — that also cannot be used by nature. Thus pollution 
results not only from the inefficiencies of physical transformation proces- 
ses but also from some of the very products humans contrive these 
processes to produce. 

Why not simply use technological devices to control pollution? 
Unfortunately, for thermodynamic reasons, there is no way that we can 
control many forms of pollution technologically. Waste heat is the prime 
example, but many others are also important, including fertilizer run-off 
and carbon dioxide from combustion. Their damage to ecosystems may 
be mitigated in some ways, but short of forgoing production altogether 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


or adopting radically different technologies, there is simply no way to 
contain these high-entropy pollutants. 

Other forms of pollution are, of course, susceptible to technological 
control, but even these pollutants cannot be controlled indefinitely, for 
continued growth in industrial output must inevitably overwhelm any 
pollution-control technology that is less than 100% effective. For ex- 
ample, if overall industrial output grows at 5% (doubling period 14 years), 
reducing by 90% the quantity of pollution emitted and maintaining this 
level of efficiency in the future would buy only about 45 years of grace, 
for after that amount of time, the absolute level of pollution would be the 
same as it is today. Even a 99% level of efficiency would extend this 
period of grace by only 46 years. Thus, with continued industrial growth, 
at some point pollution will reach dangerous levels under any pollution- 
control regime. This point may not be very far away, for even the 90% 
level of overall control effectiveness would be difficult, if not impossible, 
to achieve in practice, and a considerable price in money and energy 
would have to be paid for it. 

Tire Dilemmas and Costs of Technological Pollution Control 

The same physical laws that make production and pollution two sides of 
the same coin also tell us that all technology can do is exchange one form 
of pollution for another. Worse, because energy is generally used to 
“solve” the original problem, there is bound to be an overall increase in 
both gross pollution and entropy. For instance, some of the CFC sub- 
stitutes now coming into use to avert the destruction of the ozone layer 
are themselves toxic, exacerbate the greenhouse effect, or contribute to 
photochemical smog. They are also less energy efficient to produce and 
less effective than the CFCs they replace. As is undoubtedly true in this 
case, a particular technological “fix” may nevertheless be desirable on 
economic, ecological, or aesthetic grounds despite the overall thermo- 
dynamic loss, because the burden will presumably be shifted away from a 
sector that is harder pressed ecologically or whose degradation is more 
obnoxious to our senses and health. However, once the absorptive 
capacity of the environment has been used up, and all sectors are about 
equally hard pressed, then simply converting pollution into a different 
form will no longer be a workable strategy. It is clear, therefore, that no 
matter how much money and energy are at our disposal, there must be 
some ultimate limit on our ability to control pollution without also 
controlling production. 

However, we are unlikely to reach this ultimate ecological limit. Our 
supplies of money energy, and other resources are not without limit, and 



at some point the increased costs of pollution control seem likely to 
render further growth in production ffuidess. For example, imagine a lake 
with a “waste-absorption capacity” of y units of residuals. (In fact, as we 
shall see later, waste-absorption capacity is an economists concept that 
has no ecological validity.) A factory on the shore of this lake produces x 
units of a certain commodity and at the same time emits exactly y units 
of residuals. Although the factory now exercises no control over its 
pollution, the residuals it emits have not yet begun to degrade the quality 
of the lake water. However, suppose that demand for the commodity 
doubles, requiring either a second factory of like capacity or an 
equivalent addition to the old one. Without pollution control the lake 
would begin to die biologically, because the 2 y units of residuals resulting 
from 2x units of production would be twice what the lake can safely 
absorb. Thus pollution-control equipment that is 50% effective must be 
installed to reduce the residuals to a safe level. If demand doubles again, 
production of 4x units of the commodity produces 4 y units of residuals 
to dispose of, and pollution control must now be 75% effective. It is clear 
that if doubling of production continues, more than 99% effectiveness in 
pollution control eventually becomes necessary. 

These points are supported by reviewing the recent history of 
pollution-control efforts in the United States. Since the 1970s, the 
United States has spent about a trillion dollars on pollution-control efforts. 
What does the country have to show for it? Unfortunately, not much. 
Despite the fact that we have reduced pollution per process or pollution 
per event, our growth in numbers and productivity has so eroded our 
accomplishments that our net gain is nil. Both air and water remain 
seriously polluted, with increasingly serious consequences both to 
humans and to the planet. Hazardous substances are entering the en- 
vironment in record (and growing) amounts. These substances, including 
toxic and nuclear waste, pesticides, and industrial chemicals are causing 
serious human health consequences, notably cancer, birth defects, and 
heart and lung diseases. Solid wastes are overrunning our ability to 
manage them and are contaminating the drinking water of millions of 

Air Pollution 

In 1971 the Environmental Protection Agency set standards for reducing 
the levels in the air of substances known to produce serious health effects 
on human beings. These included sulfur and nitrogen oxides, which 
damage the respiratory tract and lungs, carbon monoxide, which deprives 
the blood of oxygen, and organic hydrocarbons, some of which cause 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


cancer and birth defects. (These substances also adversely affect human 
health by contributing to the formation of ground level ozone and acid 
rain. And they also harm the environment.) The EPA thought its stand- 
ards would result in an 80 to 90% reduction in the emissions of these 
substances between 1975 and 1985. In fact, the average reduction in the 
emissions of these substances between 1975 and 1987 was 18% (Com- 
moner 1990, p. 22). Nitrogen oxide emissions actually increased by 2% 
during those years. Why? The answer is not merely the regulatory retreat 
by the administration that came to power in 1981. For example, new 
automobiles in the United States emit 90% fewer hydrocarbons and 75% 
less carbon monoxide than did those of the early 1970s. But the number 
of vehicles on the road has nearly doubled in the last 20 years (Mc- 
Cloughlin 1989, p. 48). The increased number of motor vehicles, new 
industrial plants, and new power plants (even though many are equipped 
with such pollution-control devices as scrubbers), have nullified much of 
the pollution controls. The same outcome has occurred in other in- 
dustrialized countries attempting to control pollution — except that in 
some countries the record is worse.* In West Germany, for example, the 
average reduction of these emissions was 15% (its nitrogen oxide emis- 
sions increased by 29%); in Great Britain, the average reduction was 1% 
(Commoner 1990, p. 36). In general, countries that have tried to reduce 
the emission of a pollutant by controlling it — as opposed to preventing 
the pollutant from being produced at all — have seen their controls 
negated by the economic “growth” taking place in those countries^ 

As a result, and because many countries have no or few pollution 
controls, huge quantities of pollutants enter the atmosphere from human 
activities. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and 
Development, 110 million tons of sulfur oxides, 69 million tons of 

* Sweden is a notable exception. Its reductions of pollution have exceeded its 
increases in growth; sulfur dioxide emissions, for example, dropped by more 
than two-thirds between 1970 and 1985. 

f Lead is the only notable success story in diminishing an air pollutant. Lead is a 
toxic metal. It causes neurological disorders (especially mental retardation in 
children) and kidney failure. It inhibits both respiration and photosynthesis in plants. 
In the United States, it has almost been eliminated as an air pollutant; total annual 
emissions of lead were reduced by 94% between 1975 and 1987 (Commoner 1990, 
p. 22). The reason for this unique success was that the government did not try to 
control lead pollution but rather removed its source from the environment. That is, it 
forced technological change. Because lead clogged catalytic converters, oil com- 
panies were forced to use lead substitutes to raise the octane levels of gasoline. 



nitrogen oxides, 193 million tons of carbon monoxide, 57 million tons of 
organic hydrocarbons, and 59 million tons of particulates were emitted 
into the atmosphere in 1980 (Corson 1990, p. 221). (This listing does not 
include substances classified as toxic emissions, which we will discuss 
shordy.) The Office of Technology Assessment estimates that current 
levels of particulates and sulfates in the air may cause the premature death 
of 50,000 Americans a year (Corson 1990, p. 223). The American Lung 
Association concluded in 1990 that pollution from motor vehicles alone 
costs Americans $40 billion to $50 billion in annual health-care expendi- 
tures and causes as many as 120,000 unnecessary or premature deaths 
(77?c Washington Post Jan. 21 , 1990, p. A12). 

Moreover, these five pollutants are not the only ones that have 
worrisome health effects. Ozone is another serious air pollutant. It is 
created when organic hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides react with 
oxygen in the presence of sunlight. Ozone is produced in great quantities 
around the world, primarily by cars and trucks. In some countries, no 
controls exist on the emissions of motor vehicles. Where controls do exist, 
the increasing numbers of vehicles are nullifying the reductions, especial- 
ly that of nitrogen oxides. In 1988, 96 cities and counties failed to meet 
the standards the Environmental Protection Agency set for ozone in the 
United States. Ozone contributes to smog, reduces resistance to infection, 
interferes with lung functions, contributes to asthma and nasal conges- 
tion, and irritates the eyes. It also damages crops and contributes to the 
greenhouse effect. At current levels, ozone causes crop damage estimated 
at between $2 billion and $4.5 billion per year. 

Acid rain is another air pollutant. Acid rain is weak sulfuric and nitric 
acid. It forms when nitrogen and sulfur oxides combine with moisture in 
the air. Acid rain can kill fish and other aquatic life, destroy forests, and 
damage structures such as metals, (such as railroad tracks), building 
facades, and paints. Acid rain damage varies in different parts of the world. 
Half the forest area in 1 1 European countries shows acid rain damage; 
over 35% of the forests in Europe as a whole are damaged (Brown 1 990, 
p. 106). 43% of the conifers in the Alps in Switzerland are dead or 
seriously damaged (Corson 1990, p. 225). 80% of the lakes in Norway are 
biologically dead; in Sweden 14,000 lakes cannot support sensitive 
aquatic life; in Canada 150,000 — 1 out of 7 — eastern lakes are biological- 
ly damaged. On the other hand, although eastern China has acid rain 
damage, Japan has found no evidence of large-scale damage from acid 
rain (OECD 1991, p. 47). Acid rain has caused only moderate environ- 
mental damage in the United States. A recent federal government study, 
conducted over 10 years, concluded that aquatic life is being damaged in 
about 10% of eastern lakes and streams, that visibility is being reduced in 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


the eastern United States and in some metropolitan areas of the west, that 
add rain is contributing to the erosion and corrosion of stone and metal 
structures, and that it is reducing the ability of red spruce trees at high 
altitudes to withstand the stress caused by cold temperatures ( The New 
York Times , Sept. 6, 1990, p. A24.) It also found evidence that acid rain is 
contributing to the decline of sugar maple trees in eastern Canada and 
causing respiratory and other diseases in humans. It predicted that acid 
rain, if unchecked, would lead to forest decline in the decades ahead. 

Acid rain may combine with ozone pollution to have more damag- 
ing effects than either substance does alone. Some scientists believe the 
combination of these two pollutants have weakened trees to the point 
where 70% of the standing trees above an elevation of 900 meters (2950 
feet) in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina are dead (Corson 1990,p. 
228). (Ozone and acid rain are more concentrated at higher elevations in 
a given area.) 

Chlorofluorocarbons and halons pose another threat to human 
health. They are used as propellants, as refrigerants, as solvents, as 
stabilizers, in fire extinguishers, and in blowing foam (Corson 1990, p. 
228). The military is a major user.* But these chemicals, along with 
nitrogen oxides, cause depletion of the earth’s ozone layer. Ozone in 
the stratosphere is not a pollutant but a filter of harmful ultraviolet 
radiation from the sun. UV exposure damages plants, causing reduced 
crop yields. It kills aquatic organisms, including, ominously, the 
phytoplankton that produce much of the oxygen on which all animal 
life depends. Increased exposure of humans to ultraviolet radiation 
increases the incidence of a fatal form of skin cancer, eye damage, and 
immune system disorders. The incidence of melanoma has increased 
83% over the past 10 years in the United States (Shea 1989, p. 82); skin 
cancer cases are expected to increase from 500,000 to 800,000 a year 
(Weisskopf 1991, p. Al). The average ozone concentration in the 
stratosphere declined 2% from 1969 to 1986, but a 1991 report issued 
by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration concludes that 
ozone depletion is accelerating twice as fast as previous projections. 
Despite this, the production of chloroflurocarbons, the most important 
cause of this decline, is increasing by 5% a year. 

* The U.S. military, for example, uses 76% of all halon-1211 consumed in 
the United States and 50% of the CFC-113. Each space shuttle launch 
deposits 56 tons of chlorine into the upper atmosphere (quoted in Renner 
1991, p. 140). 



The industrial countries of the world have agreed to phase out the 
use of CFCs by the year 2000 if possible. But millions of additional 
tons of CFCs will be released into the atmosphere in the meantime. 
They will persist there for over 100 years. Furthermore, the chemical 
companies now producing CFCs will be introducing substitutes that 
will still deplete the ozone layer, though at a significantly lower rate.* 
A worse problem is that developing nations have refused to join in 
phasing out their use of CFCs; they believe that the substitute chemi- 
cals will increase their costs and slow their growth rates. The in- 
dustrialized countries, for their part, agreed not to restrict CFC ex- 
ports to the developing world. In sum, although in this case the 
industrialized world has concurred on joint action to combat a peril- 
ous environmental pollutant, the endeavor is too little and too late; it 
will not stop the destruction of the ozone layer. Millions of additional 
cases of skin cancer, reduced yields of crops, and reduced phyto- 
plankton activity are the predictable consequences. 

Finally, carbon dioxide — the main by-product of combustion — 
along with nitrous oxides, methane, and chloroflurocarbons, produces 
a greenhouse effect. These gases trap the heat absorbed by the earth 
from the sun and prevent its escape back into space. Scientists have 
proved conclusively that the earth is about 33 °C warmer than it would 
be if it did not have carbon dioxide in its atmosphere. Also, scientists 
have observed that for the past 160,000 years, whenever atmospheric 
carbon dioxide levels increased, the earth’s temperature rose shortly 
thereafter; CO 2 levels and the earth’s temperature have been closely 
correlated through the centuries (quoted in Wind Energy Weekly 1990 , 
#403). Today, atmospheric CO 2 concentrations are 20 to 25% higher 
than at any time in the pre-industrial period, going back 160,000 
years. In addition, the atmospheric concentration of methane, a 
molecule of which traps 20 to 30 times the heat of a CO 2 molecule, 
has reached more than double pre -industrial levels. The atmospheric 
concentration of CFCs, a molecule of which traps 20,000 times the 
heat of a CO 2 molecule, obviously is infinitely higher than in pre-in- 
dustrial times, when it did not exist. For these reasons, most scientists 
predict the earth will warm 2°C to 5°C in the next century (WRI 

* Substitutes for CFCs exist that (unlike the HCFC’s now planned) have no 
ozone-depleting effects but are significantly more expensive. DuPont, Allied 
Chemical, and other CFC producers have thus far shown no interest in these 
chemicals. If enforced, however, the 1990 Clean Air Act will require phasing 
out of the use of HCFCs by 2030 in the United States. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


1990-91, p. 13).* (The earths temperature during the last ice age was 
only 3°C to 5°C cooler. The predicted increase in temperature is of like 
magnitude but would occur 10 to 40 times as fast).^ 

The implications of such rapid warming for life on earth are not well 
understood. Oceans may rise. That will contaminate nearby ground- 
waters with salt, cause coastal flooding, and drive millions of people from 
their homes. The cost of protecting cities from a 1 -meter rise in ocean 
levels will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Forests may suffer. 
Experiencing a 1°C rise in temperature is equivalent to moving 200 
kilometers toward the equator; with global warming, tree species may not 
be able to “migrate” toward the poles that fast. At the warmer limits of a 
species’s range, trees would be more susceptible to disease and insects and 
less able to adapt to other human-made environmental stresses, such as 

* Scientists cannot be sure of the extent or timing of global warming because of 
uncertainty about several variables, including the absorptive capacity of the 
oceans and probable changes in cloud cover. A small minority of scientists doubt 
that greenhouse gases will actually produce global wanning; some of the 
doubters believe that increased evaporation and phytoplankton activity resulting 
from the warming effect of greenhouse gases will lead to increased cloud cover, 
reducing the amount of solar warmth reaching the earth. In addition, two Danish 
scientists have linked the global warming we have already experienced to 
sunspot intensity (Stevens 1991, p. C4). However, another minority of scientists 
believe that the warmer it gets, the hotter it will get. Some cite evidence that 
methane stored in permafrost will be released as it is warmed, thus causing more 
warming; others cite evidence that since 1976 plants have dramatically increased 
their production of carbon dioxide and methane in a process called “dark 
respiration.” Dark respiration occurs because plant respiration rates increase 
with rising temperature — unlike photosynthesis, the rate of which rises to a 
point and then declines (Moore 1990, p. C3). 

t In January 1991, scientists at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, measur- 
ing data from 2000 sites worldwide, and the British Meteorological Office 
announced that 1990 was the warmest year of the 140 years since weather 
records have been collected (Booth Jan. 1991, p. A3). This record followed on the 
heels of several broken in the 1980s; six of the seven warmest years on record 
occurred during that decade. It is possible, of course, that these records have 
nothing to do with global warming; temperatures fluctuate from year to year, or 
in groups of years, for reasons having nothing to do with a greenhouse effect. It 
is also possible that thermometers were not calibrated exactly the same 50 or 125 
years ago, producing false comparisons today. The question is whether it is 
prudent for humanity to act on evidence that global warming may be under way 
or to use such pretexts to deny it. 



increased UV radiation, ground-level ozone, and acid rain. Agriculture 
could also suffer. Although some plants’ rate of photosynthesis increases in 
the presence of high CO 2 levels, this characteristic has not been identified 
in the crops humans have cultivated. As we noted earlier, changing rainfall 
patterns may make many agricultural lands unsuitable for farming, render 
obsolete many irrigation facilities, and require new ones to be built 
elsewhere at great cost. 

The sources of carbon dioxide are everywhere fossil fuels are burned 
(see Table 3-2). The production of most of the energy to power industry, 
commerce, and homes produces carbon dioxide. The average car spews 
out prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide: 16,000 pounds a year. The 
CFCs in a car’s air conditioner have the greenhouse impact of another 
4800 pounds of CO 2 . To the extent that these emissions have been 
controlled, it has been by increasing gas milage. The average fuel efficien- 
cy of American cars, for example, has doubled since 1970, from 13 to 26.5 
miles per gallon. This success, however, is nullified by the fact that 
Americans drive nearly twice as many motor vehicles than they did in 
1970. Vehicle miles are increasing by 25 billion miles a year. Worldwide, 
the problem is worse. Despite the fact that fuel milage in other industrial 
countries is now slightly better than in the United States, the global 
average fuel economy is 20 miles per gallon/ Most countries have not 
adopted gas milage standards, but the increase in their numbers of cars has 
been comparable to that of the United States. In 1950 there were 50 
million cars in the world; by 1960 that number had doubled. By 1970 
there were double that number again, and by 1990 the number had 
redoubled again to 400 million cars. They spew 550 million tons of CO 2 
into the atmosphere per year. By 2010, there are expected to be 700 
million cars! It is true that if all governments agreed to require 
automobile gas efficiency to be 50 miles per gallon/ success would effect 

* Cars in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 
countries — that is, the industrialized West and Japan — average 30 miles per 
gallon. (Bleviss and Walzer 1990, p. 103). 

t The technology to do this exists. Even in 1991, several manufacturers have 
built prototypes of cars that exceed 50 miles/gallon. Volvo has a prototype 
compact car that gets 63 miles/gallon in the city and 81 miles/gallon on 
highways; the car is designed to meet all U.S. emissions and safety requirements 
and to exceed the U.S. crash standard of 30 iniles/hour. The car would cost little 
more than current cars to manufacture (Bleviss and Walzer 1990, p. 106; WRI 
1990-91, p. 151). Already in the 1992 model year, Honda is selling a version of 
its popular “Civic” that gets nearly 60 miles/gallon on highways. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


Table 3-2 Major Sources of CO 2 Emissions in 
the United States 



CO 2 Emissions 
(metric tons/year) 

Steam for power 









Motor drives 



Space heating 



Direct heating 









Space heating 









Water heating 






All others 




Source: Adapted from Booth 1990, p. Al. 

a slight net reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. If governments com- 
bined this efficiency with other measures, including the manufacture of 
different types of automobile engines, the use of alternative fuels, and the 
imposition of a carbon tax to reduce emissions further — and if govern- 
ments required the provision of mass transit, the building of bikeways, the 
clustering of housing, and so on to keep the number of cars down to 500 
million, carbon emissions would be reduced to half of what they are 
today. As has been true of other pollution-control efforts, however, 
governments are unlikely to adopt a sufficient number of these measures 
in time for humanity even to stabilize total automobile carbon emissions, 



much less reduce them. (Why this is true is the subject of Part II of this 

Moreover, cars constitute only 15% of the global carbon dioxide 
problem (though they contribute 25% of all U.S. carbon emissions). 
Growth in the industrial, commercial and residential sectors is also 
increasing carbon emissions faster than increases in efficiencies are 
reducing them. Increases in energy productivity in the developed 
world have been modest at best. Most governments have made only 
token efforts to develop energy from renewable carbon-free sources. 
Finally, as we have seen, people are destroying 17 million hectares of 
forests each year. This increases atmospheric carbon dioxide because 
destroyed forests release trapped carbon dioxide and no longer “con- 
sume” carbon dioxide in photosynthesis. The liquidation of the earth’s 
forests is thought to be responsible for 10% of the excess carbon 
dioxide in the atmosphere; in the tropics, where the forests are wiped 
out mostly by burning, the fires themselves produce another 1 to 2 
billion tons of CO 2 per year. 

About 15 nations, mostly in Western Europe, have plans to limit 
their production of carbon dioxide over the next 15 years. But the 
United States, which, with 5% of the world’s population, is responsible 
for more than 25% of the world’s carbon emissions, has refused to join 
in CC> 2 -reduction efforts. And it has repeatedly prevented the 
Europeans from converting their plans into binding targets (Meyer 
1990, p. 3; Stevens 1991, p. 61). (Ironically, the United States is now 
only half as efficient in using energy as Western Europe and Japan are, 
so increasing its energy productivity to reduce carbon emissions 
would improve the “competitiveness” of the United States economy.) 
Underdeveloped countries also have no plans to reduce carbon emis- 
sions. There remains, therefore, a vast gap between projected growth 
rates in carbon emissions and what scientists believe is necessary to 
control global warming. 

* The United States government in particular has invested huge amounts of 
research and development funds in nuclear energy (the hazards of which were 
discussed in Chapter 2) while investing trivial amounts in, and eliminating 
once-existing tax breaks for research and development in renewables. President 
Reagan even removed a fully functioning solar hot-water system from the 
White House. Despite this, non-nuclear carbon-free sources of energy exist; 
they include wind, geothermal, photovoltaic, solar thermal, biomass, and ocean 
thermal energy conversion. A few are already cost-competitive with fossil fuels. 
With further research, more could be. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


Water Pollution 

Water pollution is also worsening in industrial countries. In the 
United States alone, the national government has spent over $100 
million to clean up surface waters, and we have little to show for it. 
More than 17,000 of the nation’s rivers, streams, and bays are polluted. 
From 1974 to 1982, levels of fecal coliform bacteria decreased at only 
a few river reporting stations; levels of dissolved oxygen, suspended 
sediments, and phosphates increased at about the same number of sites 
as those at which they decreased (Commoner 1990, p. 25). Nitrate 
levels increased at four times as many as those sites at which they 
decreased. Arsenic and cadmium levels are also increasing. Overall, 
water quality has deteriorated at more than three-quarters of the 
measuring stations. Various states prohibit eating, or warn their citizens 
against eating, the fish caught in their rivers and lakes. For the 
hundreds of millions of dollars (including state and local spending for 
sewage-treatment plants, private spending for septic tanks, and the 
like) Americans have spent to clean up their waters, relatively few 
waterways that had undrinkable water or were unsafe for swimming in 
the 1970s have drinkable or “swimmable” water today. At the same 
time, many sites that had good water in the 1970s are unsafe today. In 
addition, sewage, plastic litter, discarded fishnets, tar balls, and toxic and 
radioactive substances are contaminating coastal waters.* Some coastal 
areas are so polluted that they are closed to oyster and shellfish fishing. 
Despite pollution-control efforts, the percentage of coastal waters 
closed to such fishing has been increasing; about half are now closed. 
A quarter of the usable groundwater in the United States is con- 
taminated — more than three-quarters in some areas (Corson 1990, p. 
164). Sixty pesticides, many of them carcinogens, have been found in 
the groundwater of 30 states (Corson 1990, p. 164). Other toxic 
chemicals, as well as saltwater and microbiological substances, are also 
polluting groundwater. Groundwater pollution is particularly insidi- 
ous because there is no practical way to clean it up: Once the ground- 
water is polluted, it remains so. 

* Oil from oil spills generates more publicity than other kinds of water 
pollution; witness the Exxon Valdez spill. However harmful, the effects of oil 
spills on coastal waters are less grave than routine unheralded municipal and 
industrial practices. For example, every day the oil industry dumps into the Gulf 
of Mexico over 1.5 million barrels of waste water containing oil, grease, 
cadmium, benzene, lead, and other toxic organics and metals! 



Many causes for water pollution exist; they are summarized in 
Table 3-3. We have also discussed additional problems caused by acid 
mine drainage and acid rain. Agricultural practices are the source of 
some of the organic chemicals in water. For example, the groundwater 
contamination from pesticides results from repeated (and increasingly 
poisonous) sprayings, and only 1% of pesticides actually reach the 
target pests. But fertilizers used in agriculture also contribute to water 
pollution; fertilizer not used by the plants either runs off into surface 
water or leaches down into the groundwater. The runoff distributes 
large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous to the water. Finally, water 
used for irrigation picks up salts on the land and carries them back to 
rivers and streams. 

Industry causes another large share of toxic water pollution. The 
largest producers of toxic water pollution (and, as we shall see, of hazard- 

Table 3-3 Causes and Effects of Water Pollution 



Health Risk 



Cancer, birth 


Agriculture, airborne 
nitrates from cars, 
power plants 


Chlorinated solvents 

Chemical degreasing, 
machinery maintenance 



Chemical reaction 
between organic 
chemicals and water 
treated with chlorine 

Liver, kidney 
damage; pos- 
sible cancer 

Pathogenic bacteria, 

Inadequately treated 
sewage, leaking septic 

tinal illnesses, 


Industrial, mining 
processes; oil production 




Source: Adapted from Corson 1990, p. 166 (adapted from Time, March 27, 
1989, p. 38) and Commoner 1990, p. 28. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution,.. 


ous solid wastes) are the chemical and plastics industries. Metal finishers, 
steel makers, and the pulp and paper industries also generate toxic water 
pollution. At least 627 industrial firms, along with 250 city sewage 
facilities, routinely discharge toxic wastes into American surface waters. 
Two-thirds of industry’s toxic products are dumped into landfills or 
injected into injection wells or pits. The chemicals in all of these disposal 
sites eventually seep or leach down into the groundwater. 77,000 such 
disposal sites are known to exist in the United States (Corson 1 990, p. 
163). Nearly 1000 of them have been identified by the Environmental 
Protection Agency as urgendy requiring attention because they are 
already leaking into the groundwater or are threatening to do so. 

These problems are repeated in other industrial countries. 90% of 
the rivers monitored in Europe have nitrate pollution; 5% have nitrate 
concentrations over 200 times the unpolluted level. Many rivers have 
high levels of such metals as zinc, lead, chromium, copper, arsenic, nickel, 
cadmium, and magnesium, as well as organic chemicals. Some European 
nations, such as the United Kingdom, Finland, Belgium, and Spain, have 
higher levels of chlorinated hydrocarbons (DDT-type insecticides and 
PCBs) in their waters than does the United States. Worse yet, many 
pesticide-using countries in the developing world have higher levels of 
chemical residues in their waters than either Europe or the United 
States. Examples include Thailand, China, Colombia, Tanzania, Malaysia, 
and Indonesia. 

Sewage causes water pollution in all parts of the world. In this 
instance, the developing world has the severest problems by far, be- 
cause sewage is often not treated at all. Fecal coliform counts in Latin 
American rivers are as high as 100,000 per 100 milliliters (WRI 
1990-91, p. 162). This compares to a World Health Organization 
recommended level for drinking water of 0 per 100 ml. 80% of all 
human disease in the world is linked to unsafe water, poor sanitation, 
and lack of basic knowledge of hygiene and disease mechanisms 
(Corson 1990, p. 162). 25 million people die each year from water- 
borne diseases (Corson 1990, p. 162). Every hour over 1000 children die 
from diarrheal diseases (Corson, p. 162). Developing countries are 
increasing their expenditures on building adequate wastewater treat- 
ment facilities. But to eradicate these conditions while their popula- 
tions are growing is simply beyond their resources. 

By comparison, the United States and Europe have minor sewage 
treatment problems. 80% of the people in West Germany, Switzerland, 
Denmark, and Sweden are connected to sewage-treatment plants. Only 
106,000 people in the United States picked up waterborne diseases 
between 1971 and 1983, although that figure excludes cancers caused by 



toxic pollutants (Corson 1990, p. 165). Still, the expense of building 
adequate wastewater treatment facilities is huge, even for industrial 
countries. In the United States, the Clean Water Act of 1972 forbade 
municipalities to discharge sewage after 1977 until 85% of the bacteria 
and pollutants in it had been removed. Then the deadline for compliance 
was extended until 1988. By 1989, after that deadline had passed, an EPA 
study reported that two-thirds of the 15,600 wastewater treatment plants 
in this country still did not meet federal standards and that it would cost 
83.5 billion dollars to bring them into compliance. That figure is 17 times 
more than the whole EPA budget for all antipollution controls. 

To preserve fresh water that human beings can safely drink is thus 
a daunting task. (Making fresh water from the sea is not an easy way 
out of our difficulties. It takes 3 kilowatt-hours of energy to make 1 
gallon of freshwater. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of the world’s 
desalinization plants are on the Arabian Peninsula (Postel 1990, p. 
150).) Water pollution controls, like air pollution controls, have been 
very expensive and, except for sewage, have produced little in the way 
of results. As with the case of the near elimination of airborne lead 
pollution, humans may have to eliminate the sources of pollutants 
rather than trying to control them after they are produced. Rather 
than building expensive facilities to control nitrogen levels in water, 
for example, it may be that agribusinesses will have to stop using 
chemical fertilizers t q grow crops. The production of human sewage 
cannot be eliminated, but using such devices as composting toilets may 
be more practical in many areas than expensive centralized sewage 
collection and wastewater control facilities. Where centralized waste- 
water control facilities are built, they must be designed to produce 
toxic-free compost, which in turn can be used as a substitute source of 
fertilizer for agriculture. Similarly, no control mechanisms for pes- 
ticides sprayed on the land exist; they will end up and accumulate in 
groundwater until agribusinesses are forced not to use them. As we 
shall see, no economic means of controlling the toxic chemicals 
produced by the petrochemical industry exist; that industry endures 
only because it does not pay its environmental costs. 

Still, in only a few instances (PCBs from industrial and electrical 
products, DDT and related chemicals from pesticides, and, in a few 
states, phosphorous from detergents) has an isolated harmful product or 
process been eliminated from production. Where used, such elimination 
has dramatically reduced particular pollutants. The reductions cannot be 
nullified by increases in economic growth. But the elimination of most 
industrial and agricultural products and practices that cause pollution is 
discussed very little. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


Hazardous Wastes 

Air and water pollution controls, which have achieved only modest 
reductions of a few pollutants, look like a roaring success compared to 
efforts to control hazardous wastes. A hazardous substance is one that 
harms human health or the environment; it includes “toxics,” which are 
direcdy poisonous to humans. Humanity is engulfed by hazardous sub- 
stances. In the United States alone, 260 million metric tons of hazardous 
substances are produced each year — more than 1 ton for every person in 
the country. The three most common types of hazardous substances are 
chemicals, (70,000 of them, mostly synthetic organics such as vinyl 
chloride or dioxin), pesticides (1 billion pounds of them used each year), 
and heavy metals. 70% of all hazardous substances are produced by the 
petrochemical industry. Except for pesticides, which are sprayed widely 
over agricultural land, they are dumped in a variety of sites in and out of 
the country. 

We have discussed the pesticide problem before. The National 
Academy of Sciences has estimated that in the United States, 20,000 new 
cases of cancer are caused each year by pesticide residues in the food 
supply. In addition, EPA tests show that pesticides contaminate the 
groundwater in 34 states; 1 in 9 wells tested was contaminated (Allen 
1990, p. 129). 95% of rural Americans rely on groundwater as their 
drinking source. In the San Joaquin valley of California, investigators have 
found pesticides in 2000 wells, including 125 public water systems 
(Corson 1990, p. 252). There, and in some other places of heavy pesticide 
use, cancer rates are up, especially among children. 

The World Health Organization estimates that 1,000,000 cases of 
pesticide poisoning occur worldwide each year, 5000 to 20,000 resulting 
in death (French 1990, p. 14). People in developing countries suffer most 
of these deaths, partly because pesticide companies do not label their 
products, the people cannot read pesticide labels, or they are not trained in 
proper pesticide handling. Developing countries also use extremely toxic 
pesticides that industrial countries ban in their own countries. 25% of the 
400 to 600 million pounds of pesticides that the United States exports are 
either banned or severely restricted in this country (French 1990, p. 14). 
Three-quarters of all pesticides used in India, for example, are chemicals 
banned in the United States (Corson 1990, p. 252). United States con- 
sumers reap some of the poisons their government permits chemical 
companies to sow: A Natural Resources Defense Council sampling of 
coffee beans in 1983 revealed that all samples had residues of DDT, BHC, 
and other banned pesticides. More than one-third of all fruit sold in the 
United States is grown in countries where few or no controls on pesticide 



Table 3-4 Toxic Substances Discharged by U.S. Industry, 1987 


Millions of Pounds 



Lakes, rivers, and streams 


Landfills, earthen pits 


Treatment and disposal facilities 




Source: EPA, reported in The Washington Post , April 13, 1989, p. A33. 

use exist, and less than 1% of food imports are inspected for pesticide 
residues (Corson 1990, p. 253).* Some believe that 50% of all imported 
fruit is pesticide-contaminated (Weir and Matthiessen 1990, p. 119). 

Other than pesticides, two-thirds of the hazardous and toxic wastes 
produced in the United States are disposed of in ways that eventually 
contaminate groundwater. The rest of the wastes are either spewed into 
the air or discharged into streams and rivers (see Table 3-4). Fifteen 
thousand uncontrolled hazardous-waste landfills and 80,000 con- 
taminated surface lagoons have been identified in the United States 
(Corson 1990, p. 248). Moreover, American industry exports 3 million 
tons of hazardous wastes to underdeveloped countries that, for the most 
part, are even less aware of their hazards than Americans are. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified 1200 haz- 
ardous-waste sites as the most dangerous in the country. These sites 
qualify for cleanup paid for out of federal funds under a “superfund” 
law passed in 1980. From 1980 to 1986, the agency spent 1.6 billion 
dollars to clean up 13 sites (Corson 1990, p. 249). At that rate, the cost 
of cleaning up the most dangerous sites would be 148 billion dollars. 
In fact, the cost of cleaning up toxic wastes is starkly prohibitive. Barry 
Commoner has noted that in 1986, the annual output of the chemical 
industry, as represented by its top 50 products, was 539 billion pounds 

* For example, the United States imported 17,620,000,000 pounds of bananas 
from 1983 to 1985. Of these, the Food and Drug Administration examined 160 
for pesticide residues. Moreover, it tested for fewer than half of the pesticides 
used on bananas (Weir and Matthiessen 1990, p. 119). 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


(Commoner 1990, p. 89). The industry that same year discharged 400 
billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment. Assuming that the 
industry were forced to incinerate these chemicals — a process that emits 
dioxin and other toxic chemicals but is the only “control” available — at an 
average charge of $100 per ton, it would cost industry $20 billion. That 
same year, Commoner reports, the chemical industry’s total after-tax profit 
was $2.6 billion (Commoner 1990, p. 90). In short, industry cannot do it. 
As long as petrochemical products are produced in anything like current 
quantities, there is no realistic prospect that the accumulation of toxics in 
the environment will even be stabilized, much less reduced. 

The problem is worse than that. The products of the petrochemical 
industry themselves become “wastes.” Plastics, for example, are often 
used just once — as is the case with household grocery bags, packaging, 
and bottles — and then thrown away. These plastics do not, like paper, 
leather, and the other products they replace, decompose in the landfills 
where they wind up. In addition, the sheer volume of solid wastes is 
filling up existing landfills and making it most unlikely that we can find 
enough new landfill sites.* The petrochemical industry does not pay the 
costs of managing the solid wastes that its products become any more 
than it pays the costs of detoxifying the hazardous wastes generated 
when it produces those products. Finally, some petrochemical products 
release harmful substances even when used as intended; examples in- 
clude carpets and automobile interiors that emit formaldehyde, 
gasolines that emit benzene, and solvents that emit carbon tetrachloride. 
Some of these chemicals are carcinogenic, are mutagenic, or damage the 
nervous system. The industry does not pay the medical expenses of those 
persons who contract disease as a result. 

The EPA estimates that the 2.7 billion pounds of toxic substances 
discharged into the air alone cause 2000 new cases of cancer each year in 
the general population. But that figure underestimates the harmful con- 
sequences of these emissions. First, it does not account for the possibly 
carcinogenic effects of hundreds of suspect substances that are vented into 

* Some European countries reduce the production of trash via public policies that 
encourage the use of retumables and recycling. Norway taxes non-returnable 
containers. Denmark prohibits their use (Y oung 1991, p. 49). Germany has ordered 
the packaging industry and retailers to recover 80% of all packaging materials by 
1995 (Environmental Action March/ April 1991 , p. 29). In the United States only a 
few places, such as Seatde, Washington, have enacted comprehensive recycling 
programs. A 1987 survey found that the states as a whole were spending 39 times as 
much money on incineration as on recycling (Y oung 1991, p. 45). 



the atmosphere but the EPA has not studied. From 1970 to 1989, for 
example, that agency listed only 8 hazardous substances and set national 
standards for only 7 of these (Maillet 1989). Second, the EPA estimate 
does not examine the health effects of chemicals that have been identified 
with birth defects, sterility, central nervous system damage, and other 
serious ailments. Third, EPA estimates are based on risks imposed on the 
average person from one chemical at a time. It does not consider the fact 
that people are exposed to multiple chemicals and that such exposure has 
additive or synergistic consequences. It also does not consider effects on 
vulnerable and hypersensitive segments of the population, such as 
children and the elderly. Moreover, it is known that more than 200 
industrial plants around the country emit toxics into the air at levels over 
1000 times the level considered safe by the Agency; 7 million Americans 
who work at these sites are thus subject to added health risks.* 

In a study of the fat tissue of 900 people representative of the United 
States population, two-thirds of the subjects were found to exhibit 33 of 
the 37 toxic compounds for which the tests were conducted (Com- 
moner 1990, p. 32). Among the carcinogens found were benzene, 
chloroform, and dioxin. t 

Toxic wastes are a problem elsewhere in the world. A few industrial 
countries (one is Denmark) detoxify some hazardous wastes before 
disposing of them, thus lowering the speed at which toxics are ac- 
cumulating and the costs of cleaning up hazardous waste sites. In other 

* Workers at chemical plants suffer risks not only from normal toxic emissions 
but also from industrial accidents. From 1981 to 1985, 7000 such accidents were 
reported, and thousands more were unreported. The reported accidents resulted 
in 138 deaths, 5000 injuries, and 200,000 people forced to evacuate their 
homes. The EPA estimated that 17 of these accidents had the potential to 
produce worse casualties than the accident at Bhopal, India, where over 3000 
died and 200,000 persons were injured (Waxman 1989). 

f Dioxin exposure of the general population results in part from trash incinera- 
tion — in particular, the combustion together of chlorinated plastics and wood 
products. Because it creates mountains of trash, the public incinerates it when it 
runs out of landfills, but incineration produces its own toxic wastes. In addition 
to dioxin, incineration discharges nitrogen and sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, 
acid gases, and furans into the air, along with such heavy metals as cadmium, 
mercury, and lead (Young 1991, p. 46). On new “clean” incinerators, scrubbers 
and filters remove most of these pollutants. But most of the “removed” pol- 
lutants then accumulate in the ash. This ash is disposed of by being injected into 
pits or dumped into landfills. Eventually, therefore, the toxics removed from the 
air end up in the groundwater. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


countries petrochemical wastes and heavy metals are dumped, just as they 
are in the United States. In the developing world, they are sometimes 
dumped into the water supply or on agricultural lands. Heavy-metal and 
organic-chemical contamination appear in vegetables and other foods. 
Millions of tons of hazardous wastes are imported into these countries 
from the United States and Europe, usually illegally/ These too are 
dumped in uncontrolled ways. 

Thus it is evident that the world has not come to grips with the 
hazardous substances it is producing. Human efforts to reduce this pollu- 
tion have so far had minimal effects, but it hasn’t mattered much, because 
effective ‘‘control” of these substances seems to have been provided 
“free” by the environment. But worsening pollution and ineffective 
pollution control cannot go on indefinitely. Reports about rising cancer 
rates in industrial countries are already appearing in scientific journals. 
These rates cannot be explained by the aging of the population (Okie 
1990, p. Al). When the incidence of environmentally caused disease 
becomes higher and more obvious, humanity' will recognize that this is 
the bill from past environmental neglect. The environment in effect will 
force stern action on us. (Unfortunately, by that time, there will be little 
we can do to lower immediately the rates of cancer, birth defects, and so 
on that result from long-term exposure). We may then eliminate from 
production any products that are themselves hazardous or the production 
of which creates hazardous wastes. The substitute products may be some- 
what more expensive, less efficient, or less convenient. In that event, the 
net effect will be to reduce either our purchasing pow'er or our “standard 
of living” as that term is conventionally understood today But that loss 
may seem less painful (or costly, in terms of medical costs) then the rising 
incidence of disease and death. 

If we don’t eliminate hazardous products altogether, we will incur 
substantially higher costs to “control” pollution. However, because pollu- 
tion control makes us pay for something that used to cost us nothing and 
often makes no contribution to productivity or product improvement, 
the net effect of increased commodity prices due to pollution control is 
a reduction of our purchasing power. Such price rises foretell the coming 
of the day w r hen marginal costs of growth equal the gains and w-hen 
growth will therefore cease. 

* The European Economic Community 7 agreed in 1 990 not to export toxic and 
radioactive waste to their 68 former European colonies. These ex-colonies, in 
turn, agreed not to import toxic wastes from anywhere else. The United States 
and 50 developing countries are not parties to this treaty' (French 1990, p. 13). 



A problem more serious than financial costs is that even where 
technological control is theoretically possible, the technical problems 
may be extremely demanding. For example, we still have no really 
workable technological means of detoxifying hazardous wastes. Of 
course, future inventions may improve conditions greatly in many areas, 
but certain pollutants appear to be so intractable that effective tech- 
nological control may never be achieved. 

Radiation: The Insidious Pollutant 

Radiation is the primary case in point. It is especially important to 
examine it in detail because many theorists seem to rely heavily on the 
generation of nuclear power both to circumvent the unacceptable pollu- 
tion that would result from the expansion of conventional fossil-fuel 
power production and to compensate for the eventual disappearance of 
fossil fuels altogether. Moreover, radioactive compounds are only the 
most vicious of the wide array of dangerous chemicals we now discharge 
into the environment without any real knowledge of their ultimate 
potential for harm, so the case of radiation can serve as a model of the 
general long-term dangers of pollution and of the dilemmas that con- 
found technological pollution control. 

Radioactive isotopes, or radionuclides, are dangerous in extremely 
small doses. It has become clear that even tiny doses have long-term 
adverse effects on human and ecological health — that no radiation ex- 
posure can be considered risk-free.* Thus experts agree that virtually any 
increase in radiation exposure is to be avoided. Why are radionuclides so 

* That was the conclusion of the National Research Council in 1989. Its study also 
concluded that the incidence of fatal cancers increases in proportion to increases in 
radiation exposure (Smith 1989, p. A3). A recent study published in The Journal of 
the American Medical Association reported that workers at the Oak Ridge National 
Laboratory in Tennessee who were exposed to very low levels of radiation — well 
below permissible levels and well below exposure levels at commercial nuclear 
power plants — had a leukemia death rate 63% higher than the general population 
(quoted in Lippman 1991, p. A3). In the past, some scientists had believed that, 
below a certain threshold, radiation either had no harmful effects or the harmful 
effects would be unmeasurable because any cancer that showed up later could have 
been the consequence of inducers other than radiation exposure. But the Oak 
Ridge study controlled for other cancer-causing factors, and it revealed that the 
longer workers were exposed to tiny levels of radiation, the higher the incidence of 
cancer. Of course, these studies do not end all controversy about the health effects 
of low-level radiation; the U.S. Council for Energy Awareness, a nuclear industry 
trade group, criticized both studies. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


dangerous? First, physical and biological concentration of radionuclides is 
a pervasive phenomenon. It can take the form of geographical concentra- 
tion in lakes, estuaries, airsheds, or any other places where the circulation 
of air and water is restricted. Or it can take the form of physiological 
concentration in the body, for example, inhaled plutonium oxide particles 
tend to lodge permanently in the lung and therefore to irradiate sur- 
rounding tissues intensely over a long period.* 

Concentration can also take the form of biological magnification, 
which was described in Chapter 1 in connection with pesticides. Once a 
biologically active radionuclide enters a food chain, it is concentrated 
approximately tenfold at each higher trophic level. For example, the 
modest quantity of radioactive strontium 90 that falls on a pasture is 
concentrated in grass, again in the cows that eat the grass, and last in the 
child who drinks the cows milk. Finally, for metabolic reasons 
radionuclides are concentrated selectively in particular tissues or organs. 
For example, strontium-90 mimics calcium in the body and is selectively 
concentrated in bones and bone marrow, iodine-131 is trapped by 
thyroid glands, and cesium-137 concentrates in muscles and soft organs, 
such as the liver and gonads. Thus radiation standards set in terms of 
averages or so-called whole-body doses may not be very meaningful in 
two ways: (1) any radiation exposure causes cancer. (2) No matter how 
low the levels are set, because radioactive substances are certain to be 
concentrated in particular locations, a dose of radiation that is well within 
the putative limits of tolerance on the average or over the whole body 
may nevertheless prove lethal. 

In addition, there is no such thing as an “average” person for whom 
certain levels of radioactivity can be judged safe. An organism’s vulnera- 
bility to damage by radioactivity (or any other pollutant, for that matter) 
is directly related to the stage in its life cycle as well as to other accidents 
of personal history. The fetus is particularly vulnerable to poisonous 
compounds of any kind. Growing children, with their high metabolism, 
are also at higher risk, and the affinity of a radioactive compound such as 
strontium-90 for bone and marrow can make it particularly devastating at 
certain developmental stages. Thus standards must take into account the 
basic ecological principle that the reproductive period is critical (E. P. 

* Plutonium’s peculiar properties and extreme toxicity make it by far the most 
virulent of all radioactive substances. This fact has generated a major controversy 
over the dangers of plutonium to public health. The more extreme critics of the 
radiation standards-setting process claim that inhalation of as little as one particle 
may be sufficient to produce a significantly increased risk of contracting cancer. 



Odum 1971, p. 108): What to adults or the general public may be an 
acceptable risk may be very much more damaging to the young and to 
others who are peculiarly vulnerable. 

Furthermore, the effects of radiation combine synergistically with 
the effects of other pollutants or environmental stresses to produce 
disproportionate damage to bodies and ecosystems. Synergism occurs 
when two or more causes combine to produce a net effect that is greater 
than the mere sum of their separate effects. Thus, to use a well-known 
medical example, exposure to a modest quantity of either carbon 
tetrachloride or alcohol has no serious consequences, but simultaneous 
exposure to both causes serious illness or death. Many environmental 
problems are either produced by synergism (for example, photochemical 
smog) or aggravated by it (for example, poisoning by heavy metals). The 
theoretical basis for this was discussed in Chapter 1 : Any environmental 
stress tends to simplify an ecosystem and therefore to reduce its stability. 
Few studies have been done on the synergistic effects of pollutants. So 
many biologically active compounds have been released in such large 
quantities that neither the money nor the labor power is available for 
studying even a tiny fraction of the more important interactions. How- 
ever, the deleterious effect of low-level radioactivity on the structure and 
functioning of ecosystems and on the human body is amply documented 
(Smith 1989, p. A3; Wallace 1974; Conney and Bums 1972; Woodwell 
1969). In effect, radioactivity “softens up” a biological system, making it 
more vulnerable to disruption by other pollutants and stresses (and vice 
versa, of course). The addition to our environment of such a potent stress 
as chronic radioactivity is therefore a matter for deep concern, even if no 
immediate effects can be observed. 

It is, in fact, the long-term effects of radiation exposure that are the 
most worrisome. The general epidemiological evidence for increased 
mortality due to chronic low-level pollution over the last 50 to 100 years 
is incontrovertible. Epidemiologists agree that the sharp rise in death rates 
from emphysema, various forms of malignancy, and a number of other 
prominent modern ills is primarily due to pollution. Researchers es- 
timate, for example, that between 60 and 90% of cancer cases (1,040,000 
discovered each year in the United States) are caused by environmental 
factors, mostly chemicals (Maugh 1974). Moreover, as Figure 3-2 reveals, 
the overall damage to public health is likely to be far greater than 
mortality statistics alone indicate. In addition, the effect of stress on 
natural systems is nonlinear (so that doubling the dose more than doubles 
the resulting illness), and we can confidently expect future increments of 
low-level radiation (and of other pollutants) to produce dispropor- 
tionately more damage to human health than past levels of pollution. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


FIGURE 3-2 Spectrum of biological responses to exposure to pollutants 
(after Newill 1973). 

Even more important is the fact that radiation is by far the most powerful 
mutagen known. The radionuclides released by human activities are 
therefore doubly dangerous: By exposing us to a level of radioactivity 
significantly higher than the so-called background radiation of the earth 
(which our evolutionary history has prepared us to withstand), they 
threaten the genetic integrity of unborn generations. It is entirely con- 
ceivable, for example, that today’s adults and even today s children could 
escape serious harm but that our grandchildren would be grievously 
injured by current levels of radioactivity. In sum, despite the remaining 
areas of controversy, the long-term dangers from low levels of environ- 
mental radioactivity are essentially indisputable. 

Finally, the threat from radionuclides is intensified by their persist- 
ence. For example, the half-lives of tritium, strontium-90, and cesium- 
137 are 12.4, 28, and 33 years, respectively. Because the period of 
biological danger is roughly 10 times the half-life, the tritium we release 
today will be a problem for 124 years, and the other two isotopes will 
remain dangerous for about 3 centuries. A few other radionuclides have 
such long half-lives that they will be with us in virtual perpetuity. The 
most dangerous of these is plutonium-239 (it has a half-life of 24,000 
years), which takes a quarter of a million years to decay to the point of 



harmlessness. (Plutonium is used in weapons and is part of the nuclear 
fuel cycle, either as a by-product or as a fuel.) Consequently, tiny amounts 
of radionuclides released year after year can, over the not-so-very-long 
run, build up a large inventory of dangerous radioactivity in ecosystems 
and human bodies. Thus, even if we and our immediate progeny escape 
harm, we could still saddle our more remote posterity with a lethal 
burden of radioactivity. 

The conclusion is inescapable that the release of radioactive com- 
pounds to the environment in any but the most trivial amounts, made up 
preferably only of those compounds with very short half-lives and the 
least capacity for biological harm, carries with it some very serious risks. 
Anything less than virtually 100% control of radioactive emissions is truly 
dangerous to the future biological health of the planet and its inhabitants, 
especially its human inhabitants. 

Toxic Nuclear Wastes 

Given the dangers of radiation, the wastes generated by the military and 
civilian uses of nuclear power pose a formidable long-term threat to 
humanity. The military facilities of the United States and the Soviet 
Union have generated huge quantities of nuclear wastes. The Soviet 
military has openly dumped its nuclear wastes into lakes and rivers, 
forcing the evacuation of people living along their shores and con- 
taminating the Arctic Ocean, thousands of kilometers away. A Soviet 
high-level nuclear storage facility exploded in 1957, contaminating 
15,000 square kilometers of land on which 250,000 people lived. In the 
worst civilian nuclear accident in history, a reactor at the Chernobyl 
power station exploded in 1986, releasing between 50 and 100 million 
curies of radioactive material into the environment. Up to 50 different 
radioactive isotopes were included in the release, with half-lives ranging 
from 2 hours to 24,000 years. A huge quantity of cesium-137 (half-life, 33 
years) was released and was detected in high amounts in the milk of 
countries as far away as Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. 
One hundred million people in Europe were put under food restrictions, 
as the radiation contaminated fruits, vegetables, and the grass on which 
livestock feed. Soon after the explosion occurred, 116,000 people living 
within 18 miles of the reactor were moved out; the land in the vicinity of 
the reactor may remain uninhabitable for 15,000 years. In 1990 the Soviet 
government allocated $26 billion to move 200,000 more people 
(Shogren 1990, p. Al). But 4 million people still live on contaminated 
land. By 1990 doctors in the area were reporting dramatically higher 
levels of skin cancer and other cancers, miscarriages, genetic mutations, 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


birth defects, gynecological problems, anemia, heart attacks, and enlarged 
thyroid glands. Cancer deaths attributable to the accident are projected by 
the National Research Council to be as high as 70,000 people. Over 
30,000 of these fatalities will occur outside the Soviet Union. The 
radiation release from Chernobyl is expected to cause cancers to develop 
in tens of thousands of additional people who will survive the disease/ 
The United States military has also generated huge amounts of 
radioactive waste — an estimated 1.4 billion curies. (This compares to the 
50 to 100 million curies of radioactive material released at Chernobyl 
(Renner 1991, p. 147).) United States military waste has contaminated 
the soil and groundwater at over 3200 sites owned by the United States 
Department of Energy. More than 50 Nagasaki-sized nuclear bombs 
could be built just from the wastes that have already leaked from storage 
tanks at the Hanford, Washington, nuclear reservation (Renner 1991, p. 

147) ; 4.5 million liters of high-level radioactive wastes have leaked from 
these tanks so far (Renner 1991, p. 148). Radiation from the Rocky Flats 
nuclear facility in Colorado, including plutonium, has spewed in un- 
known quantities throughout the Denver region; strontium and cesium 
have leaked into the ground water (Renner 1991, p.148). Rocky Flats 
employees suffer elevated levels of brain tumors, malignant melanoma, 
respiratory cancer, and chromosome aberrations (Renner 1991, p. 147). 
The Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear facility has emitted thousands of 
pounds of uranium into the atmosphere; the facility at Fernald, Ohio, has 
emitted at least 250 tons of uranium oxide. The facility’s wastes have 
contaminated nearby surface water and groundwater with cesium, uran- 
ium, and thorium. The aquifer under the Savannah River, South Carolina, 
nuclear facility contains radioactive substances and chemicals at 400 times 
the concentrations the government considers “safe” (Renner 1991, p. 

148) . All of this radiation (and more, at thousands of other facilities) is 
hazardous to biological systems and is accumulating. No one knows what 
to do with the portion of these nuclear wastes (and civilian nuclear 
wastes) that can be “cleaned up,” because no satisfactory facility for 
storing nuclear wastes has been found. Worse still, some of these nuclear 
wastes cannot be “cleaned up”; either we don’t know how or the wastes 
are already dispersed into the air, the water, and particularly the ground- 
water where they will remain harmful, depending on the contaminant, 
for dozens, hundreds, or thousands of years. 

* Apart from the possibility of catastrophic accidents, nuclear power is beset 
with other difficulties, which were discussed in Chapter 2. 



The Fallacies of Technological Pollution Control 

The difference between radioactive pollutants and more ordinary pol- 
lutants is one of degree, not of kind. Radionuclides are particularly 
insidious and especially toxic, but many other pollutants behave in a 
similar way In fact, the vast majority of the thousands of synthetic 
chemical compounds released in any quantity are physically and biologi- 
cally concentrated or magnified so as to attack certain body tissues 
selectively; have critical effects on reproduction or early development; 
react synergistically with other compounds or “soften up” natural sys- 
tems; have potential or demonstrated delayed effects on ecosystems and 
human populations; are mutagenic; and are sufficiently persistent to allow 
long-term buildup of toxic material. Consequently, we already confront a 
public health and ecological dilemma of unknown but clearly large 
dimensions. Adding additional quantities of pollution of whatever form 
can only worsen this situation. 

For these reasons, ecologists and environmental health specialists find 
completely unacceptable the usual economist s position that we should 
rely on the “natural assimilative capacity” of air and water, controlling 
pollution only when recreational or other economic “use values” will be 
damaged. This economic criterion can have ecological validity, if at all, 
only for nonsynthetic pollutants (such as sewage and other organic 
materials) that ecosystems are naturally adapted to handle in reasonable 
amounts. But it has no validity at all for synthetics like petrochemicals, to 
say nothing of radionuclides. Thus it may make ecological sense to speak 
of using the environment to dispose of natural organic compounds 
(providing, contrary to current fact, that they are not contaminated with 
synthetics), but these are the least dangerous and least troublesome 
pollutants. By contrast, we must achieve virtually 100% control of the 
much more dangerous and troublesome synthetics; economics not- 
withstanding, there is little or no safe assimilative capacity for such 
unnatural compounds. 

Furthermore, even if we were to allow that the environment could 
absorb with impunity a minimal quantity of these compounds, we could 
not determine whether there existed a “safe” level of usage except by 
trial and error. Thus it has taken the observation of increased incidence of 
cancers in human beings for us to recognize that there is no safe exposure 
to radionuclides. Our ignorance about safe levels of toxic substances is 
paralleled, and in most cases exceeded, by our ignorance of what ecosys- 
tems can tolerate over the long term and of numerous other factors 
essential to administering an “economic” pollution-control strategy. Hu- 
man beings will continue to be the guinea pigs, while administrators of 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


pollution-control laws face the task of setting pollution controls despite 
this ignorance of what the environment can absorb. 

Nor are the technical means available to the administrator at all 
prepossessing. In fact, because so much pollution derives, like agricultural 
runoff, from “non-point” sources that can be controlled, if at all, only by 
truly heroic technological measures, even strict controls on readily acces- 
sible “point” sources of pollution may be almost fruitless. General urban 
runoff, for example, makes a contribution to water pollution about equal 
to that of sewage, yet there is no way to control it short of a massive 
hydrological reengineering of our cities (at astronomical cost). This is part 
of the reason why the $100 billion spent so far to meet the standards of 
the Clean Water Act has been an “almost meaningless enterprise” (after 
Abelson 1974). 

In this light, our hypothetical pollution-control model now appears 
rather conservative. Not only are the original x units of residuals already 
an ecological and public-health threat (though probably not yet a large 
one), but because pollution is due as much to the general side effects of 
development as to the more easily controlled discharges of factory 
effluent, each doubling of production from the factory will more than 
double the incidence of pollution. Thus both the necessity for stringent 
pollution control and its expense will increase more rapidly than a simple 
proportional model would predict. 

In sum, therefore, as a strategy of coping with the ever-increasing 
load of pollution that inevitably accompanies increased production, tech- 
nological pollution control has some very serious limitations. Even grant - 
ing,for the sake of argument, that engineers will come up with systems of pollution 
control that are, especially for radionuclides, 90% or more effective, growth of 
production cannot continue forever. In fact, if we try to double and redouble 
current levels of production in the United States, it seems very likely that 
we shall soon be restrained by rising costs of pollution control (at least for 
some commodities) and by rising levels of pollutants that we cannot 
control. Pollution control (as distinct from eliminating the production of 
pollutants in the first place) is therefore only a temporary tactic that will 
allow growth of production to continue for just a while longer. It is not 
a genuine solution to the problem of pollution, even under the most 
optimistic assumptions about our technological capacities and energy 

In addition, the basic problems of pollution control are at least as 
much political, social, and economic as technological. For example, it may 
well be that we shall come to accept levels of pollution and damage to 
public health that we would regard as intolerable today. If so, then growth 
could continue for somewhat longer, until mortality and morbidity grow 




Ecological Pollution Control 

From almost every point of view except short-term profitability, an 
ecological strategy of pollution control and waste recycling, involving 
as much as possible the planned use of natural recycling mechanisms, 
would be preferable to relying on expensive, energy-devouring, and 
failure-prone technological devices to perform these functions. Specifi- 
cally, we should create waste-management parks — that is, portions of 
the environment deliberately set aside as natural recycling “plants” (E. 

P. Odum 1971, Chap. 16). In these parks, sewage and other controllable 
wastes capable of being naturally recycled (and not used directly as fer- 
tilizer on farms) would be sprayed on forests and grasslands, which 
would remove and reuse the nutrients that cause water pollution and 
return the purified water to aquifers. Forestry, fish ponds, grazing, and 
other means of exploiting the potentially productive energy contained 
in the recycled wastes would help pay the costs. This concept of pollu- 
tion control is the most efficient and economical overall, for nature 
would do most of the work free, and productive use would be made of 
wastes. Also, because such a park would be in a quasi-natural state, it 
would serve ecologically as a protective zone, balancing more intensive 
development elsewhere. 

to catastrophic proportions. Also, technological fixes are not ecologically 
optimal solutions to many important pollution problems. For example, 
attempts to dispose of urban organic wastes technologically are mis- 
directed, for these wastes are really an unused resource that could be 
recycled as fertilizer. Unfortunately, even though it is thermodynamically 
and ecologically rational and would probably save money and energy in 
the long run, recycling wastes is seriously impeded not only by the initial 
financial and energy costs of transition, but also by the numerous changes 
in our general way of doing things that would be required to make this 
kind of ecological pollution control feasible (see Box 16). Finally, as we 
shall see later, it is “rational” to pollute and to avoid paying for pollution 
control. Thus even where control measures — technological or other- 
wise — are readily available, they usually cannot be implemented except 
within a general framework of political, social, and economic reforms. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


Unfortunately, such a strategy has limits. In the first place, the con- 
cept of the waste-management park assumes that resources are not so 
intensively exploited that we cannot afford to reserve large potentially 
productive areas for protective purposes. Moreover, as we have seen, 
many forms of uncontrollable pollution will remain despite any con- 
ceivable changes in pollution-control strategy. Also, materials such as 
radionuclides and many synthetic chemicals, which are dangerous to in- 
troduce into ecosystems, will still have to be treated and controlled in- 
dustrially. Thus the problems of technological pollution control dis- 
cussed in the text may be insuperable. (Scientists are studying the 
possibility of transmuting nuclear wastes, that is, bombarding them with 
neutrons to break them down into substances that would, in about 300 
years, be no more dangerous than natural uranium. (Browne 1991, p. 
Cl).) But transmutation has not yet been proven practical; moreover, 
most transmutation methods would produce plutonium. Scientists en- 
vision that the plutonium would be processed in a breeder reactor, but 
the United States previously abandoned an earlier breeder reactor pro- 
gram as too dangerous). Therefore, it would seem that genuine control 
of pollution will oblige us not to produce pollutants in the first place; 
this will require significant industrial changes as well as changes in our 
social habits and values. 

Technology and Its Management 

Is There a Limit to Technological Growth? 

One of the main components of the argument against the limits-to- 
growth thesis is technological optimism (see Box 17 for a description of 
the type of technology at issue). The optimists believe that exponential 
technological growth will allow us to expand resources and keep ahead 
of exponentially increasing demands. The eminent British elder statesman 
of science Lord Zuckerman (quoted in Anon., 1972a) complained about 
The Limits to Growth that “the only kind of exponential growth with 
which the book does not deal, and which I for one believe to be a fact, is 
that of the growth of human knowledge”; Zuckerman went on to assert 
categorically that “the tree of knowledge will go on growing endlessly.” 




Bulldozer Technology 

Unless they return to a life of hunting and gathering without either 
tools or fire, humans are incurably technological in the sense that they 
will always have to transform nature for utilitarian ends by some kind 
of applied science. However, radically different modes of technological 
existence are possible. What we are concerned with here is the peculiar 
kind of technology that grew out of Baconian experimental science, 
which first had a social impact during the Industrial Revolution in 
England, and which has as its explicit purpose giving people power 
over nature in order to promote “the effecting of all things possible,” 
to use Francis Bacons arresting slogan (Medawar 1969). 

For our purposes, the most important characteristics of this kind 
of technology are its dependence on fossil fuel and other nonrenew- 
able or man-made resources, its linearity and lack of integration 
with natural processes, its dominating scale, and its narrow concept 
of rationality or efficiency. Because all attempts at an exact yet 
reasonably succinct definition fall short, it might be best to resort to 
symbolism and call it “bulldozer” technology. The bulldozer and 
other earth-moving machinery make possible the airports, dams, 
highways, skyscrapers, and most of the other vaunted achievements 
of modern technological civilization. Moreover, its violent power, 
the single-minded way in which it reshapes nature to human design, 
and its dependence on human-made energy and a complex in- 
dustrial infrastructure make the bulldozer a paradigm of modern 
technology. It is on such a technology, rather than on some of its 
conceivable alternatives, that proponents of exponential technologi- 
cal growth appear to rely. 

Zuckermans boast is not merely a personal opinion but a widely 
held article of modern faith. Since the age of the Enlightenment 
philosophes, the ideology of progress through science and technology has 
been our social religion. Indeed, according to its more utopian pro- 
ponents, such as Karl Marx, eventually scarcity itself (and therefore the 
age-old evils of poverty and injustice that are rooted in it) will be 
abolished. Thus to challenge endless scientific and technological progress 
amounts to a kind of secular heresy. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


Yet, as we have seen in the preceding discussions of the particular 
technological solutions proposed to deal with the problems of growth in 
the production of food, minerals, and pollution, there are demonstrable 
limits to the technological manipulation of ecological limits. The time has 
come to generalize about some of these limits and to discuss certain 
practical problems of technological management that are only partly 
connected with the physical limitations of the earth. It will be seen that 
neither in theory nor in practice can technological growth be as endless 
as Lord Zuckerman asserts. Already, in fact, limits to knowledge and to 
the human capacity to plan for and manage technological solutions to 
environmental problems have begun to emerge. 

Limits to Knowledge and to Its Application 

Most scientists and technologists believe, with Zuckerman, that necessity 
unfailingly brings forth invention. However, although we cannot specify the 
exact limits and must always be aware of potential “failures of imagination 
and nerve” that would tend to make us overly pessimistic about future 
possibilities (Clarke 1962), there is at least reasonable doubt that “the tree of 
[relevant] knowledge will go on growing endlessly.” This does not mean 
that the enterprise of science will end, and it is clear that such an assertion in 
any event is less true of some fields than others. Nevertheless, it appears that 
the process of relevant scientific discovery must eventually cease. That is, just 
as we have turned mechanics and classical optics into engineers’ tools and, 
therefore, into played-out fields of scientific investigation, so too shall we 
come to the end of scientific discovery in other fields relevant to the problem of 
surmounting the limits to growth. 

Indeed, the history of science clearly illustrates the law of diminishing 
returns, for the more scientific work that is done, the more likely it is that 
new theories will be corrections or refinements of previous ones, leaving 
most of the old structure of knowledge intact. Thus new knowledge may not 
be translatable into new technology. In physics the clockwork celestial- 
mechanical theories of Isaac Newton have been superseded by the relativis- 
tic and quantum-mechanical theories associated with Albert Einstein and 
Werner Heisenberg, but neither relativity nor the uncertainty principle have 
a significant practical impact on the ordinary physical reality of our species’s 
biological and social existence. Thus even very great future discoveries — 
ones that totally change our scientific world view or our view of ourselves, 
may contribute little to removing the ecological limits now confronting the 
human species. 

Moreover, a greater scientific and technological research effort does 
not seem possible, for the scientific enterprise itself is now struggling with 



numerous limits to its own growth. For example, the costs of basic 
research in many areas have risen inordinately in recent years, a clear 
symptom of diminishing returns. And even when theory clearly favors 
real-world technological advance, acceptable engineering solutions may 
not be achievable because the technical difficulties are too great. As 
previously suggested, fusion could be just such an area. 

Finally, as we have had occasion to note in connection with 
pollution control and energy production, one cannot improve a tech- 
nology indefinitely without encountering either thermodynamic 
limits or limits of scale beyond which further improvement is of no 
practical interest. Many technologies are already near this point, and 
the rest soon will be, for the substitution of one ever-more-efficient 
form of technology for another simply cannot continue forever. In 
effect, the better our current technology, the harder it is likely to be to 
improve upon it. (In the real world, moreover, there is frequently a 
trade-off between efficiency and reliability, such that maximizing 
efficiency can be self-defeating.) 

In sum, there may be limits to relevant scientific and technological 
knowledge or to the human capacity to discover such knowledge. If so, 
basing our strategy of response to ecological limits on the assumption that 
scientific and technological knowledge will grow endlessly or even at the 
rate typical of the recent past appears to be imprudent. 

The Overwhelming Burden of Planning and Management 

Even if lack of scientific and technological knowledge proves not to be 
an obstacle, implementation of technological solutions to the full array 
of problems we have discussed will place a staggering burden of plan- 
ning and management on our decision makers and institutional 

The 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and 
Development viewed the problem as follows: 

When the century began, neither human numbers nor technology had the 
power radically to alter planetary systems. As the century closes, not only 
do vastly increased human numbers and their activities have that power, 
but major, unintended changes are occurring in the atmosphere, in soils, in 
waters, among plants and animals, and in the relationships among all of 
these. The rate of change is outstripping the ability of scientific disciplines 
and our current capabilities to assess and advise. It is frustrating the 
attempts of political and economic institutions, which evolved in a dif- 
ferent, more fragmented world, to adapt and cope (Corson 1990, p. 3). 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


Furthermore, the environmental crisis is not a series of discrete 
problems; it is a set of interacting problems that exacerbate each other 
through various kinds of threshold, multiplicative, and synergistic ef- 
fects.* Thus the difficulty and complexity of managing the ensemble of 
problems grow faster than any particular problem. Moreover, all the 
work of innovation, construction, and environmental management 
needed to cope with this ensemble must be orchestrated into a rea- 
sonably integrated, harmonious whole; the accumulation of the side 
effects of piecemeal solutions would almost certainly be intolerable. 
Because delays, planning failures, and general incapacity to deal effec- 
tively with even the current range of problems are all too visible today, 
we must further assume that our ability to cope with large-scale com- 
plexity will improve substantially in the next few decades. In brief, 
technology cannot be implemented in an organizational vacuum. Some- 
thing like the ecological “law of the minimum,” which states that the 
factor in least supply governs the rate of growth of a system as a whole, 
applies to social systems as well as ecosystems. Thus technological fixes 
cannot run ahead of the human capacity to plan, construct, fund, and 
staff them — a fact that many technological optimists (for example, Starr 
and Rudman 1973) either overlook or assume away. 

Foresight , Time, and Money as Factors in Least Supply 

Our ability to achieve the requisite level of effectiveness in planning is 
especially doubtful. Already the complex systems that sustain industrial 
civilization are seen by some as perpetually hovering on the brink of 
breakdown, and current management styles — linear, hierarchical, 
economic — appear to be grossly ill adapted to the nature of the problems. 

One very troublesome problem for social planners is that the con se- 
quences of our technological acts cannot be foreseen with certainty. 
There exist no scientific answers to such “trans-scientific” questions as 
what risks are attached to nuclear energy or to the use of certain 

* Some examples: (1) Even if per capita consumption and waste remain constant, 
a small increase in population can change a healthy river into a sewer once the 
river’s capacity to digest wastes and pollution has been exceeded (the threshold 
effect). (2) Even if population and per capita consumption grow separately at quite 
modest rates, the total environmental demand multiplies more rapidly, such that a 
doubled population that uses twice as much has four times the impact on the 
environment (the multiplicative effect). (3) Various forms of pollution, from noise 
to radiation, interact to produce more ill health than would result simply from the 
addition of the particular effects (the synergistic effect). 



chemicals (Weinberg 1972); the only way to determine these risks em- 
pirically is to run a real-life experiment on the population at large.* The 
potential social consequences of technological innovation are even more 
obscure. Thus there are no technical solutions to the dilemmas of en- 
vironmental management, and policy decisions about environmental 
problems must be made politically by prudent citizens, not by scientific 
administrators. This being the case, technology assessment, the remedy 
proposed for the general political problem of technological side effects, 
can never be the purely technical exercise many of its proponents seem 
to envision; instead, the planning process will come to resemble a power 
struggle between partisans of differing economic, social, and political 
values. The difficulties and delays such an adversary planning process 
entails are foreshadowed by current conflicts over nuclear power-plant 
siting and safety and over other environmental issues. 

Of course, such drawn-out political batdes may well be essential for the 
creation of social consensus and commitment on these difficult issues. Yet it 
is becoming increasingly apparent that we can ill afford the associated delays, 
for time will be one of our scarcest resources. Difficult as it seems, dealing 
with very large increments of growth is really the lesser part of the problem. 
Exponential growth is dangerous primarily because it is so insidious: As the 
example of the lily pad and pond illustrates, until a limit is very close in time, 
it seems very far away physically and psychologically. Thus the all too human 
tendency to let things slide until they are pressing is potentially fatal, for by 
then even heroic action may be too little and too late. 

For example, we Americans have allowed the private automobile to 
become so central to our economy and our private lives that we cannot live 

* Perhaps the worst local example of this phenomenon in the United States is 
the 85-mile corridor from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, Louisiana, which is 
home to 135 chemical plants and 7 oil refineries. The Washington Post reported 
that “the air, ground, and water along this corridor are so full of carcinogens, 
mutagens and embryotoxins that an environmental health specialist defined 
living [there] as ‘a massive human experiment....”’ (Mariniss and Weisskopf 
1988, p. Al). Although several towns in the corridor report high rates of cancer 
and miscarriage among their populations, nothing special (beyond weak federal 
anti-pollution laws) is being done to stop the emission of pollutants from these 
plants or to relocate the people away from them. The reason is that the effects 
of chemicals in promoting these diseases is long-term and “creeping”; 
furthermore, as federal officials tirelessly repeat in discussing everything from 
pesticides to radiation, no one can prove what role what particular chemical 
played in causing what particular disease in a particular person, compared to 
other possible sources of that person’s cancer or miscarriage. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


without it in the short term, yet because of air pollution, we can no 
longer live with it in its current form. We are forced to alleviate the worst 
of its side effects with stopgap technological responses, but this strategy 
will not even enable us to meet necessary clean-air standards without 
additional social and institutional changes. At this point, however, we are 
almost helpless to do better, for we ignored the problem until it became 
too big to handle by any means that are politically, economically, and 
technically feasible now or in the immediate future. Similarly, warnings of 
the destruction of the ozone layer were ignored, and the world is finding 
itself in a predicament in which nothing we can do will avert millions of 
additional cancer cases. 

Nor is it enough merely to foresee an emerging problem. Planners 
must also anticipate the lead time necessary to take delivery of even 
readily available technological solutions, such as using hydrochlorofluoro- 
carbons instead of chloroflurocarbons (10 to 20 years), or to replace a 
harmful technology with one that does not use chlorine (20 to 40 years), 
as is apparently going to be necessary to bring ozone depletion under 
control. Often, however, the replacement technology does not yet exist, 
so even more lead time must be allotted for its invention. Worse, it may 
take a very long time for any significant results to appear once a tech- 
nological fix has actually been applied in the real world. CFCs, for 
example, remain intact in the upper atmosphere for 100 years. Even if we 
stop producing them immediately, each chlorine atom already created has 
the capacity to destroy around 100,000 ozone molecules. For another 
example, the sheer quantity of the toxic wastes dumped in this country is 
now so overwhelming that cleaning it up has already proved to be all but 
impossible/ Even if we were to stop producing toxic wastes quickly, with 
scientific breakthroughs, a crash program of development, and the politi- 
cal will to implement radical change (none of which exists), much more 
groundwater contamination is inevitable from the wastes already 
dumped. So too are cancers among the people who use groundwater for 
their drinking supply. In sum, coping with exponential growth at our 
advanced stage of development requires the exercise of foresight, and a 
planning horizon of 30 to 50 years is the minimum consistent with the 

* The Superfund Law, which provided for the cleanup of toxic waste sites in 
the United States, has thus far been a farce. Although 1177 sites were identified 
as “priority” waste sites by 1988, from 1980 to 1986 the EPA cleaned up only 
13 — and that at a cost of $1.6 billion (Corson 1990, pp. 249-250). And this may 
be only the tip of the iceberg: In 1987, the General Accounting office estimated 
that over 425,000 hazardous waste sites may exist in this country. 



existence of innumerable natural and social lags. Moreover, our past 
failure to exercise foresight means that we have already fallen far behind. 

In spite of the fact that money is also a significant practical limitation on 
technological growth, there are abundant examples of failure to count the 
financial cost of technological schemes. One is found in the assertion, which 
has unfortunately begun to achieve some currency, that the way out of our 
ecological bind here on earth lies in space (Chedd 1974). It is abundandy 
clear that, whatever the ultimate potential for founding extraterrestrial 
colonies or whatever the ultimate cosmic destiny of the human race, space 
offers no escape from the limits to growth on this planet. To rocket into space 
a number of individuals equivalent to just one days growth in the population 
of the world (approximately 250,000 people) would be a major undertaking 
(assuming 100 persons per shutde flight, 2500 flights would be necessary). 
This alone would generate colossal environmental problems — enormous 
quantities of energy for fuel, pollution of the atmosphere (especially the 
vulnerable stratosphere) by toxic exhaust gases (not to mention chlorine), 
and so on — and trying to keep pace with population growth would be 
totally out of the question. Moreover, the expense would be staggering. Not 
only would it cost billions to lift into orbit these 250,000 persons, but that 
would be just the beginning. There would also be the costs for space 
colonization and other life-support costs in space. Unquestionably, keeping 
pace with the world s population growth for just one year would require a 
sum exceeding the U.S. gross national product. It is apparent that even highly 
developed and routinized space travel is not likely to involve large-scale 
movement of people and materials to and from the earth, at least not in any 
foreseeable future. 

Even less grandiose technological schemes may cost too much. One of 
the reasons why there is no American supersonic transport (SST) program 
(and why the AngloFrench Concorde SST project is continually embroiled 
in political controversy as well as red ink) is that neither government nor 
private industry was willing to undertake the financial burdens. Indeed, the 
mere expansion of currently feasible technology will strain our capital 
resources in the coming decades. To stop carbon emissions and meet our 
electrical needs by increasing nuclear power production would cost upwards 
of two trillion dollars over the next 25 years, not including the costs of 
decommissioning plants or the disposal of radioactive wastes. If we were to 
replace all coal-fired power plants with nuclear plants by 2025, we would 
have to build one plant every two and one-half days every year! The 
staggering expense is one of the major reasons why utilities, despite govern- 
ment support, are not likely to choose the nuclear route. Moreover, given the 
general shortage of capital, when dollars are spent for expensive technologies 
to solve a problem in one area, investment must be foregone in other kinds 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


of new plant and equipment needed to cope with another environmental 
pollutant, or in housing, or in social welfare, and so forth. Insufficient 
investment capital is therefore likely to be a very serious limitation on 
continued technological expansion. 

Vulnerability to Accident and Error 

Because major and irrevocable commitments of money, materials, and 
effort are necessary to stay ahead of population growth and because major 
risks are inherent in certain technological choices if all does not go well, 
it has become supremely important to make the right decisions the first 
time, for we may have no second chance to solve the problems being 
thrust upon us so rapidly. Yet even supremely foresightful, intelligent, and 
timely decision making may do little to reduce the growing vulnerability 
of a highly technological society to accident and error. 

The main cause for concern is that some especially dangerous tech- 
nologies are beginning to be deployed. We have seen, for example, that 
there are inherent in nuclear power production (especially with the 
breeder reactor) certain risks that make virtually perfect containment 
mandatory, and the evidence does not suggest that such perfection is 
achievable (see Box 10 and the related discussion). In addition, many 
other modern technologies — such as the chemical industry, the transport 
and storage of natural gas, and the supertanker— are capable of inflicting 
catastrophic ecological or human damage. Experience with these tech- 
nologies also shows clearly the near impossibility of preventing all acci- 
dents. Especially in the developed world, people depend so heavily on a 
basic technological infrastructure that even less intrinsically dangerous 
accidents for example, a sustained electric-power failure — can have 
devastating consequences. 

As population grows and civilization becomes more complex, it will 
require much more effort and skill for us to cope with this increasing 
vulnerability to disorder (entropy) and failure. But to count on perfect 
design, skill, efficiency, or reliability in any human enterprise is folly. In 
addition, all human works, no matter how perfect as self-contained 
engineering creations, are vulnerable not only to such natural disasters as 
earthquakes, storms, droughts, and other acts of God,* but also to 

This fact alone makes it unlikely that the requisite degree of nuclear safety can 
ever be achieved, especially given the human propensity to build extensively in 
natural flood plains, known earthquake zones, and other spots liable to natural 



deliberate disruption by crackpots, criminals, terrorists, and military 
enemies. Nevertheless, despite the patent impossibility of achieving any 
such thing, modern society seems to be approaching a condition in 
which nothing less than perfect planning and management will do. Some 
will object to such a strong statement of the problem, so let us examine 
several of the arguments that purport to dismiss this concern. 

It is sometimes said that the probability of any one of these disastrous 
events happening is so low as not to be worth worrying about. Of course, 
humanity must run some risk in order to reap the fruits of technology, 
but dismissing the problem in this fashion betrays a potentially fatal 
misunderstanding of the laws of probability, for an apparently low prob- 
ability of accident may be illusory. First, as we noted in the discussion of 
reactor safety in Box 10, whether a risk is large or small depends greatly 
on how many sources of risk there are. That is, if the chances of some 
kind of reactor accident are 1 in 1000 per reactor year, then 1 accident a 
year is a certainty (on average) if there are 1000 reactors in operation. 
Because we already do so many things that have some potential, however 
small, of altering the climate or unleashing other disasters, we should not 
be complacent about the apparently highly improbable. Second, some 
risks are essentially incalculable. There is no way, for example, to estimate 
the degree of danger to nuclear installations in developing countries from 
fanatical political terrorists cunning enough to outwit all the safety 
devices and security procedures. Third, we cannot afford to relax even 
when the probabilities are truly small, for the million-to-one shot is 
equally likely to occur at the first event, at the millionth, or well beyond 
the millionth. If the result of failure is potentially catastrophic, then we are 
simply engaged in playing a highly recondite version of Russian roulette. 
As game theorists have shown, a course of action that risks very serious 
loss is unlikely to be sound, no matter how attractive the potential gain; a 
prudent strategist limits his risks even if this strategy also limits his gains. 

Some believe that we shall soon achieve a level of material and 
systems reliability far above what we are now capable of; the space 
program is often cited in support of this belief. However, although the 
space program is certainly a triumph of technical engineering, most of 
the problems we are called on to solve are not pure engineering pro- 
blems. They contain a host of social and other “soft” factors that make 
them conceptually and practically several orders of magnitude more 
difficult than the space program. Moreover, this claim conveniently 
overlooks the fiery death of three astronauts, the near disaster of Apollo 
Thirteen, and the Challenger disaster, to mention only the American 
space program. In addition, we have neither the money nor the labor 
power to turn all our technological acts into a simulacrum of a moon 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


shot. The nuclear industry is a much more realistic model of what we can 
expect, but as we have seen, despite far greater than average attention to 
safety and fail-safe design strategies, its safety record is far from perfect. 
The death toll from Chernobyl alone, as we have noted, is expected to be 
70,000 people. 

In sum, even massive amounts of money, enormous effort, and 
supreme technological cleverness can never guarantee accident-free 
operation of technological devices, and it is indeed strange that tech- 
nologists — discoverers of the infamous Murphy’s Law, which sardonical- 
ly states that “If something can possibly go wrong, it will” — should so 
often assume that they can make their creations invulnerable to acts of 
God or foolproof in normal operations. Indeed, the array of potential 
ecological and societal disasters confronting a civilization that increas- 
ingly depends on the smooth and errorless operation of technological 
systems should give any prudent individual pause. It is not just that 
incredible accidents can still happen, as is well illustrated by the fate of 
the Titanic , whose designers believed it to be unsinkable. Rather, we are 
deliberately adopting new technologies in full awareness that they are by 
no means “unsinkable.” 

In fact, the supertanker may be an even better metaphor for modern 
technological society than the bulldozer (see Box 17). These massive oil 
barges are maritime disasters looking for a place to happen. The eco- 
disaster caused by the wreck of the Torrey Canyon , not a particularly large 
supertanker by current or projected standards, was surely a taste of things 
to come. Any doubt on this score was removed when the Exxon Valdez 
disaster occurred — and that was only the most visible of supertanker 
spills, which now occur with regularity. Supertankers are fragile. They are 
cheaply built to minimum standards and in such a way as to flout 
scandalously nearly all the canons of good seaworthiness established over 
centuries of experience (Mostert 1974). Their thin and over-stressed hulls 
are not equal to all the challenges of the sea; they lack the ability to 
maneuver or stop within any reasonable distance; and they have only a 
single boiler and a single crew, so that even routine failures leave them 
helplessly adrift with as much thermal energy in their tanks as is stored in 
a fair-sized hydrogen bomb.* Like the monstrous supertanker, a highly 
technological society appears fated to exist on the thinnest of safety 

* In August 1990, after a year of highly publicized oil spills, Congress passed 
legislation requiring new supertankers to be double hulled and mandating 
the eventual retrofitting of existing supertankers (Chasis and Speer 1991, p. 
21 ). 



margins,* and there is abundant evidence that such a small margin will 
eventually prove insufficient. To proceed on the assumption that we can 
achieve standards of perfection hitherto unattained would be an act of 
technological hubris exceeding all bounds of prudence. 

The End of “Endless” Technological Growth 

The important question is not “Can we do it?” in the narrow tech- 
nological sense. Rather, we must ask, “Can we do all the things we have 
to do at once, given shortages of money, labor power, and other factors 
potentially in least supply? At what cost and at what risk? Will we do it? 
Will we do it in time, given lack of foresight and the very human 
tendency to wait for a crisis?” 

What this array of questions suggests is that, even if the problems of 
exponential growth seemingly yield to abstract analysis and technological 
solution, it is possible that they will not be solved simply because we are 
too human and fallible to deal with them in the real world. In short, 
exponential technological growth is a false hope, for it can never be the 
endless process optimists seem to anticipate: Even in the shorter term, 
technological solutions pose problems of management that can be sur- 
mounted only with great difficulty, if at all. 

This judgment certainly does not mean that all technological solu- 
tions are anathema. Indeed, to counter single-minded technological 
optimism with an equally single-minded neo-Luddite hostility to tech- 
nology in all its forms is absurd, for a nontechnological existence is 
impossible. The questions at issue are what kind of technology is to be 
adopted, and to what social ends it is to be applied. The whole subject of 
technology needs to be demythologized so that we have a realistic view 
of what technology can, what it cannot do, and what its costs are. 

The basic features of a valid alternative technology have already been 
identified (Box 18). Unlike current bulldozer-supertanker technology, it 
would be based on ecological and thermodynamic premises that are 

* The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, attempting to revive the 
moribund nuclear industry in the United States, exemplifies this willingness to 
take increased risks. The NRC has been trying, administratively, to eliminate 
public hearings heretofore required when a reactor is finished and about to go 
on line. An adverse Court of Appeals decision in November 1990 temporarily 
frustrated this effort, but both the NRC and the Bush administration are 
lobbying Congress to eliminate the hearings by legislation (Wasserman 1991, p. 
656). The NRC is also expected to promulgate new rules providing for the 
renewal of reactor licenses past the end of a reactor’s natural 40-year-life. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


compatible with the coexistence of humans and nature over the long 
term. As a consequence, it would necessarily eschew merely quantitative 
progress, striving instead to maximize general human welfare at mini- 
mum material cost. Such an alternative (or “soft,” “appropriate,” “low- 
impact,” “intermediate”) technology is certainly possible; that it would 
also be desirable is a theme we shall return to in Chapter 8. 

Even under the most optimistic assumptions, the kinds of alternative 
technologies under discussion probably cannot support affluence as we in 
the richest countries have come to define it, so a certain lowering of 
social sights is called for. In fact, extensive social changes are inevitable. 
One of the major attractions of the technological fix as a response to the 
problems of exponential growth is that it appears to avoid the need for 
awkward social change. In other words, reliance on technological growth 
makes possible the continuation of business as usual. But as we have seen 
throughout our discussion of ecological limits, business as usual cannot 
continue under any circumstances, no matter what one assumes about 
our civilization’s technological response, because a multitude of political, 
social, and economic issues lie concealed within nearly all aspects of the 
environmental crisis. The limits to technological growth that we have 
identified make it even clearer that the essence of the solution to the 
environmental crisis must be political in the sense specified in the 
Introduction. We shall explore these thorny issues (particularly the politi- 
cal side effects of continued technological growth) in Part II. 

An Overview of Ecological Scarcity 

What Is Ecological Scarcity? 

Ecological scarcity is an all-embracing concept that encompasses all the 
various limits to growth and costs attached to continued growth that 
were mentioned above. As we have seen, it includes not only Malthusian 
scarcity of food but also impending shortages of mineral resources, 
biospheric or ecosystemic limitations on human activity, and limits to the 
human capacity to use technology to expand resource supplies ahead of 
exponentially increasing demands (or to bear the costs of doing so).* We 
have seen diminishing returns, which have overtaken not only agricul- 

* A complete definition of ecological scarcity ought properly to include the 
social costs attached to continued technological and industrial growth, the 
economic problems of coping with the physical aspects of scarcity, and certain 
other sociopolitical factors that will be dealt with in Part II. 




Alternative Technology 

All forms of alternative, or “soft,” technology share certain charac- 
teristics. First and foremost, they are closely adapted to natural cycles 
and processes, so pollution is minimized and as much of the work as 
possible is done by nature. Second, they are based primarily on renew- 
able, “income” flows of matter and energy such as trees and solar radia- 
tion rather than on nonrenewable, “capital” stocks such as rare ores and 
fossil fuels. Third, the first two characteristics encourage the revival of 
some labor-intensive modes of production. Fourth, these three together 
imply the creation of a “low-throughput” economy, in which the per 
capita use of resources is minimized and long-term thermodynamic 
and social costs are not ignored for the sake of short-term benefits. 

Fifth, all of these seem to point to technologies that are smaller, simpler, 
less dependent on a specialized technical elite, and therefore more 
decentralized with respect both to location and to control of the means 
of production. Finally, among the possible social side effects of such al- 
ternative technologies are greater cultural diversity, reduced liability to 
misuse of technology by individuals and nations, and less overall 
anomie and alienation once individuals have greater control over their 
own fives than they do under the current technological dispensation. 

Naturally, one way to achieve these goals would be to renounce 
modern science and technology entirely and revert to a low-technol- 
ogy, pre-modem agrarian society, but the proponents of alternative 
technology are not urging a return to some imaginary paradise of pris- 
tine closeness to nature. They propose instead a creative blend of the 
most advanced modern science and technology with the best of the 
old, pre— Industrial Revolution “polytechnics” (Mumford 1970). Yet at 
the same time, alternative technology is indeed profoundly anti- 
technological, for it is diametrically opposed to autonomous technolo- 
gical growth of the kind that has produced an ecological crisis. Perhaps 
technology has not exerted a determining influence on modern society, 

tural production but every other economic activity as well; the limits to 
the efficiency of pollution control and of energy conversion, the need to 
mine ever-thinner ores to get the same useful quantity of metals, the need 
to pour ever-more money and energy into the maintenance of the basic 
technological infrastructure, and so on. Instead of being able to do ever 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


as some of its more extreme critics maintain, but it is quite evident that 
during the last 300 years, society has adapted to technology rather than 
vice versa. In seeking to reverse this situation and bring the technologi- 
cal process under full social control, alternative technology poses a chal- 
lenge to the current order that is in the broadest sense primarily politi- 
cal, not scientific or technical. (Indeed, most of the essential 
components of a viable alternative technology, such as solar power, are 
already known or invented and merely require development; the 
process of changeover could therefore be quite fast, unlike the In- 
dustrial Revolution, which was retarded by the slow pace of invention.) 
Thus, although alternative technology is technically feasible and could 
be installed without unacceptable social costs, its adoption will require 
a revolutionary break with the values of the industrial era. 

A major unanswered question is how 7 high the material standard of 
living will be. Unfortunately, the answer depends largely on how many 
people there are. It is abundandy clear that “soft” technology 7 is able to 
provide an ample sufficiency of material well-being to very large num- 
bers of people. On the other hand, it cannot support the materialistic 
profligacy now 7 enjoyed by the richest one-fifth of humanity. 

Humanity’s affluent economies have emitted two-thirds of the green- 
house gases, three-fourths of the sulfur and nitrogen oxides, most of the 
world’s hazardous wastes, and 90% of the world’s chlorofluorocarbons. 

It is not possible under any scheme for the world to live like today s 
Americans, for before it could happen, the planet would be laid to 
waste. One rough estimate is that alternative technology could support 
a world population of about 1 billion people at the current standard of 
living of Norway or the Netherlands (de Bell 1970, p. 154). Human 
resourcefulness may establish that this is a gross underestimate. But a 
w r orld maintained in ecological balance wtith its resources by means of 
alternative technology will likely contain few^er people than it does 
now. And those people will have to be more frugal and contribute 
more physical labor for their affluence than does the richest one-fifth 
of humanity today. 

more with ever less or to substitute one resource for another indefinitely, 
as economists often claim is possible, w r e shall have to spend more money, 
energy, and social effort to obtain the same quantity, or even a diminished 
quantity, of useful output. Furthermore, most proposed technological 
solutions to the problems of growth call for more materials (often 



materials of a very particular and scarce type), create more pollution (or 
demand more technological solutions to control it), require more energy, 
and absorb more human resources. Thus the costs of coping with each 
additional increment of growth rise inexorably and exponentially 

We have also seen that, in general, all sectors are interacting and 
interdependent, so that on the one hand, the combination of sectoral 
micro-problems creates an almost overwhelming macro-problem, while 
on the other hand, the solutions to the macro-problem (as well as those 
to most of the separate micro-problems) depend on the questionable 
availability of a host of factors that may be in least supply. Thus problems 
exacerbate each other. Also, the solution to one micro-problem is often 
inconsistent with the solution to other micro-problems or is dependent 
on the solution of still another problem, which depends in turn on the 
solution to a third problem, and so on. Nothing less than a coordinated 
strategy that takes into account the full ensemble of problems and their 
interactions can hope to succeed. 

Thus, stating that ecological scarcity will one day bring growth to a 
halt is much more than merely asserting that the earth is finite and that 
growth must therefore cease some day in the future. Ecological scarcity is 
indeed ultimately grounded on the physical scarcity inherent in the 
earth’s finitude, but it is manifested primarily by the multitude of inter- 
acting and interdependent limits to growth that will prevent us from ever 
testing the finitude of the biosphere and its resources. In fact, as we shall 
see, ecological scarcity has already begun to restrain growth. 

The overall course of industrial civilization as it responds to ecological 
scarcity is illustrated graphically in Figure 3-3 by the familiar sigmoid or 
logistic growth curve. In the period between A and B, the ecological and 
other resources necessary for growth are present in abundance (at least 
potentially), and splendid and accelerating growth ensues, as it has during the 
last 300 years or more. Eventually, however, resources are no longer abundant 
enough to support further growth, and technological ingenuity can no 
longer postpone the day of reckoning. At this point of inflection (Q, 
deceleration begins; in the narrow transition zone (B to D), which is 
approximately one doubling period wide about the point of inflection, 
considerable further growth due to momentum occurs, but the ecological 
abundance that fueled accelerating growth begins to disappear, and the first 
warning signs of ecological scarcity are quickly succeeded by various nega- 
tive feedback pressures that start to choke off further growth. Beyond the 
brief transition period these pressures build up quite rapidly, and deceleration 
continues until equilibrium (E) is attained. The zone of transition is therefore 
the most critical section of the growth curve. The entire changeover from 
accelerating to decelerating growth occurs in a very brief time, especially 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


FIGURE 3-3 Growth curve of industrial civilization: A, steady state (begin- 
ning of accelerating growth); B, end of unrestrained growth (beginning of 
transition period); C, point of inflection (beginning of deceleration); D, end of 
transition period; E , terminal steady state. 

compared to the seemingly infinite period of growth that precedes it, 
during which the very idea of limits or scarcity, except as temporary 
challenges to ingenuity, seems ludicrous. 

Thus ecological scarcity becomes evident only once the curve is within 
the transition zone. This being the case, the mere fact that so many aspects of 
ecological scarcity have been discussed and debated at great length should be 
ample evidence that industrial civilization is near or past the point of 
inflection and confronts the prospect of deceleration to a steady state. Yet, in 
fact, the controversy continues. As we noted in the Introduction, the time 
factor is the crux of the debate over the limits to growth, so let us examine 
in greater detail the question of how far away industrial civilization is from 
the proximate and ultimate limits to growth. 

How Far Away Is Ecological Scarcity? 

The evidence is overwhelming that we have entered the transition zone. 
People can impressionistically observe rising pollution problems, not only 
in industrial nations but in many over-crowded and over-urbanized 
developing countries. These were the first signs of thermodynamic bills 
coming due. Since then, specialists have observed degradation of all three 
of the biological systems on which the worlds economy depends: 
croplands, forests, and grasslands. 



Croplands provide feed, food, and many raw materials that industry uses. 
Forests provide fuel, lumber, paper, and many other products. Grasslands are 
the source of meat, milk, leather, and wool. As of 1986, 11% of the earths 
land was cropland, 31% was forest, and 25% was pasture. The rest of the 
earth s land surface had little biological activity; it either was desert or was 
paved over for human use. Since 1981, the amount of land reclaimed for 
crops has been offset by an equal amount no longer suitable for agriculture 
or paved over. The amount of grassland worldwide has declined, as overgraz- 
ing turns it into pasture. Forests have been shrinking for centuries and, in the 
1980s, at a rapidly accelerating rate. The combined area of the three biologi- 
cally productive areas has been shrinking since the 1980s, whereas the earths 
biological wastelands (deserts and paved areas) have been expanding. 

Worse, productivity in two of the earth s three biologically productive 
areas is also down. Throughout the Northern hemisphere, where forest 
growth rates are measured, trees are growing more slowly. In many areas, 
whole species of trees and even local forests are dying from acid rain, ozone, 
and other stresses. Grassland destruction is occurring on every continent, as 
grazing exceeds the carrying capacity of the land. Even in the United States, 
a majority of the grassland is in fair to poor condition. As grassland de- 
teriorates, soil erosion accelerates and the capacity to carry livestock is 
reduced further; eventually, the area turns into a desert. Livestock growers 
then seek grain from cropland for their animals, putting increased pressure 
on farmers, whose production of food per capita has not kept up with the 
increase in human population since 1988. 

According to Stanford University biologist Peter Vitousek, humans 
now appropriate 40% of the land’s net primary biological product. Net 
primary biological product is the amount of energy that primary pro- 
ducers capture via photosynthesis, less the energy they use in their own 
growth and reproduction. In other words, 40% of the earths land-based 
photosynthetic product either is used by humans or has been lost as a 
result of the alteration of ecosystems by human activity. This means 
several things. First, as the human impact on the environment increases, 
other species will find it more difficult to survive. Eventually they will not 
survive, and human life-support systems will begin to unravel. Second, 
“eventually” is not so far off. Let us assume a constant level of per capita 
resource consumption. Then if 5 billion human beings appropriate 40% 
of the land s NPP, 10 billion human beings will appropriate 80%; before 
the population got to the projected 14 billion by 2100, humans would 
have consumed the entire world s net primary biological product, which 
is impossible. Indeed, even 80% is ecologically impossible; humans cannot 
survive without the survival of ecosystems made up of other species, most 
of which would be dead by that point. 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


FIGURE 3-4 Growth versus carrying capacity. If growth results in environ- 
mental degradation, the carrying capacity is progressively reduced. 

As the example of the lily pond makes clear, time is running out. Just 
as demand for various biological products is increasing to keep up with 
human population growth and appetites, the carrying capacity 7 of the 
earth is decreasing with the depletion and degradation of resources 
(Figure 3-4). Indeed, most ecologists would argue that the carrying 
capacity has already been exceeded whenever one can observe dangerous 
levels of pollution, serious ecological degradation, or widespread dis- 
turbance of natural balances, all of which are readily observable today. 
Thus, although precise forecasting is not possible, the available quantita- 
tive evidence rather strongly suggests that industrial civilization will be 
obliged to make an abrupt transition from full-speed-ahead growth to 
some kind of equilibrium or steady-state society 7 in little more than one 
generation — and that the process of deceleration has already begun. 

The Historical Significance of Ecological Scarcity 

The essential meaning of ecological scarcity is that humanity’s political, 
economic, and social life must once again become thoroughly rooted in 
the physical realities of the biosphere. Scarcity and physical necessity have 
not been abolished; after a brief historical interlude of apparently endless 
abundance, they have returned stronger than ever (with political conse- 
quences to be taken up in Part II). Because of ecological scarcity, many 
things that we now take as axiomatic will be inverted in the near future. 
For example, during the growth era, capital and labor were the critical 



factors in the economic process; henceforth, land and resources (that is, 
nature) will be critical. In addition, because the United States, Europe, 
and Japan — the so-called “haves” — are now living to some extent be- 
yond their ecological means, they may turn into ecological and economic 
“have nots,” while some current “have nots” who are comparatively 
resource-rich will suddenly become the new “haves.” (This transforma- 
tion is already under way.) All the institutions and values that characterize 
industrial societies and are predicated on continuous growth will be 
confronted with ruthless reality tests and revolutionary challenges. Above 
all, the sudden coming of ecological scarcity means that our generation is 
faced with an epochal political task. The transition is under way regardless 
of our wishes in the matter, so our only proper course is to learn how to 
adapt humanely to the exigencies of ecological scarcity and guide the 
transition to equilibrium in the direction of a desirable steady-state 

The great danger from the sudden emergence of ecological scarcity 
is that we will not respond to its challenges in time. We have already seen 
that time is probably our scarcest resource; the sheer momentum of 
growth, the long time constants built into the biosphere, and above all, 
social response rates that for various reasons lag behind events (and are in 
any event governed by the factor in least supply) all predispose the world 
system and most of its subsystems to overshoot (exceed) the level that 
would be sustainable over the long term. But the inevitable consequence 
of overshoot is collapse. The trend depicted in Figure 3-4 cannot con- 
tinue in the real world, for environmental demand can never long exceed 
the carrying capacity. Figure 3-5 represents the three basic real-world 
possibilities: (a) smooth convergence on the optimal equilibrium level 
(which is, as noted above, unlikely); (b) overshoot and collapse with 
eventual convergence on a relatively high equilibrium level; and (c) 
overshoot and collapse to a significantly lower than optimal equilibrium 
level because the carrying capacity has been drastically eroded by the 
destructiveness associated with the overshoot. 

Because the earth s carrying capacity is clearly being depleted and 
degraded, we are speeding rapidly toward the outcome depicted in Figure 
3-5 (c), which is highly undesirable for at least three reasons: The suffering 
and misery created by a large overshoot of the carrying capacity will be 
enormous. Any large overshoot seems certain to erode the carrying 
capacity so severely that the surviving civilization will have rather limited 
material possibilities. And the opportunity to build the basic technologi- 
cal and social infrastructure of a high-level, steady-state society may be 
irretrievably lost. That is, unless the remaining supplies of non-renewable 
resources are carefully husbanded and used to make a planned transition 

Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


to a high-technology steady state, only steady states comparatively poor 
in material terms will be achievable with the depleted resources left 
following overshoot and collapse. Thus, although ecological scarcity 
means that there is no option other than the steady-state society in which 
people and their demands are in balance with the environment and its 
resources, the current generation does have a significant say in the type 
and basic quality' of the steady state that will be achieved. The basic policy 
options are presented graphically in Figure 3-6. 

Throughout most of recorded history, the human race has existed in 
rough equilibrium with its resource base. Growth occurred, if at all, at an 
infinitesimal pace; even the population of relatively dynamic Europe 
grew at much less than 1% a year between A. D. 600 and 1600. But then, 
very suddenly, the Industrial Revolution rocketed the scale of economic 
activity upward. With the arrival of ecological scarcity, the rocket cannot 
continue to rise. The first policy option (transition I in Figure 3-6) is an 
immediate and direct transition to a steady-state civilization relatively 
affluent in material terms (however frugal it might seem to many now 
living in the richest countries). If this option is not taken, overshoot must 
occasion a fall to a significantly lower steady-state level than could have 
been achieved by carefully planned and timely action (transition II), or 
even to a level tantamount to a reversion to the traditional premodern 
agrarian way of life (transition III), so that the entire Industrial Revolu- 
tion from start to finish will appear as a brief and anomalous spike in 
humanity’s otherwise flat ecological trace, a transitory epoch a few 
centuries in duration, when it momentarily seemed possible to abolish 
scarcity.* In short, we stand at a genuine crossroads. Ecological scarcity is 
not completely new in history, but the crisis we confront is largely 
unprecedented. That is, it is not a simple repetition of the classic Mal- 
thusian apocalypse on a larger scale, in which nothing has changed but 
the numbers of people, the ruthlessness of the checks, and therefore the 
greater potential for misery once the day of reckoning comes. The wars, 
plagues, and famines that have toppled previous civilizations are over- 
shadowed by horrible checks Malthus never dreamt of (such as large- 

* There is some risk that in trying to make the immediate and direct 
transition (1 in Figure 3-6), we shall achieve a steady-state level somewhat 
lower than the maximum possible. However, the sacrifice of such a marginal 
gain seems small compared to the risks attached to overshoot. Moreover, it 
will always be possible to adjust upward if later experience or further 
inventions make it feasible; thus the marginal gains will be forgone only 






Deforestation, the Loss of Biodiversity, Pollution... 


FIGURE 3-6 The ecological history of the world — past, present, and fu- 
ture: I, direct transition to high-level steady state; II, belated transition to some- 
what lower-level steady state; III, reversion to pre-modern agrarian way of life. 

scale ecological ruin and global radiation poisoning), for these checks are 
threats to the very existence of the species. On the other hand, we also 
possess technical resources that previous civilizations lacked when they 
encountered the challenges of ecological scarcity. Thus in our case a 
successful response is possible: We can create a reasonably affluent post- 
industrial, steady-state civilization and avoid a traumatic fall into a version 
of preindustrial civilization. 

This imposing task devolves upon the current generation, and there 
is no time to lose. Already many trends, such as demographic momentum, 
cannot be reversed within any reasonable time without Draconian mea- 
sures. Moreover, as we shall see in Part II, the way ahead is strewn with 
painful dilemmas. Indeed, nothing can be accomplished without the 
frustration of many deeply ingrained expectations and the exaction of 
genuine sacrifices. The epoch we have already entered is a turning point 
in the ecological history of the human race comparable to the Neolithic 
Revolution. It will inevitably involve racking political turmoil and an 
extraordinary reconstitution of the political paradigm that prevails 
throughout most of the modern world. 

FIGURE 3-5 (Left) Three scenarios for the transition from growth to 
maturity: (a) smooth transition to equilibrium with minimal erosion of carry- 
ing capacity; (b) overshoot with substantial erosion of carrying capacity; (c) 
overshoot with drastic erosion of carrying capacity. 



The Dilemmas of 


The Politics of Scarcity 

Having explored the general nature and meaning of ecological scarcity, 
we shall now delve into its political consequences. This chapter examines 
the basic political dynamics of ecological scarcity; Chapters 5 and 6 assess 
the specific challenge to the American market system; and Chapter 7 
extends the analysis of the preceding three chapters, showing that it 
applies in all important respects to the rest of the world. 

The Political Evils of Scarcity 

It was suggested in the Introduction that scarcity is the source of original 
political sin: Resources that are scantier than human wants have to be 
allocated by governments, for naked conflict would result otherwise. In the 
words of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan ( 1 65 1 , p. 1 07) , human 
life in an anarchic “state of nature” is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and 
short.” To prevent the perpetual struggle for power in a war of all against all, 
there must be a civil authority capable of keeping the peace by regulating 
property and other scarce goods. Scarcity thus makes politics inescapable. 

Presumably, the establishment of a truly just civil authority would 
eliminate all the political problems that arise from scarcity. With all 
assured of a fair share of goods, social harmony would replace strife, and 
people would enjoy long and happy lives of peaceful cooperation. 
Unfortunately, this has never happened. Although they have certainly 
mitigated some of the worst aspects of the anarchic state of nature 
(especially the total insecurity that prevails in a war of all against all), 
civilized polities have always institutionalized a large measure of in- 
equality, oppression, and conflict. Thus, in addition to being the source of 
original political sin, scarcity is also the root of political evil. 




The reason is quite simple. For most of recorded history, societies have 
existed at the ecological margin or very close to it. An equal division of 
income and wealth, therefore, would condemn all to a life of shared poverty. 
Not unnaturally, the tendency has been for political institutions to further 
impoverish the masses by a fractional amount in order to create the surplus 
that enables a small elite to enjoy more than its share of the fruits of civilized 
life. Indeed, until recently energy has been so scarce that serfdom and slavery 
have been the norm — justifiably so, says Aristotle in his Politics, for otherwise 
genuine civilization would be impossible. Except for a few relatively brief 
periods when for some reason the burden of scarcity was temporarily lifted, 
inequality, oppression, and conflict have been very prominent features of 
political life, merely waxing and waning slightly in response to the character 
of the rulers and other ephemeral factors. 

Our own era has been the longest and certainly the most important 
exception. During roughly the last 450 years, the carrying capacity of the 
globe (and especially of the highly developed nations) has been markedly 
expanded, and several centuries of relative abundance have completely 
transformed the face of the earth and made our societies and our 
civilization what they are today — relatively open, egalitarian, libertarian, 
and conflict-free. 

The Great Frontier 

The causes of the four-century-long economic boom we have enjoyed 
are readily apparent: the European discovery and exploitation of the New 
World, Oceania, and other founts of virgin resources (for example, 
Persian Gulf oil); the take-off and rapid-growth phases of science-based, 
energy-intensive technology; and the existence of vast reservoirs of “free” 
ecological goods such as air and water to absorb the consequences of our 
exploiting the new resources with the new technology. However, the first 
cause is clearly the most important. 

Before the discovery of the New World, the population of Europe 
pressed hard on its means of subsistence, and as a result, European 
societies were politically, economically, and socially closed. But with the 
opening up of a “Great Frontier” in the New World, Europe suddenly 
faced a seemingly limitless panorama of ecological riches. The land 
available for cultivation was suddenly multiplied about five times; vast 
stands of high-grade timber, a scarce commodity in Europe, stretched as 
far as the eye could see; gold and silver were there for the taking, and rich 
lodes of other metals lay ready for exploitation; the introduction of the 
potato and other new food crops from the New World boosted European 
agricultural production so sharply that the population doubled between 

The Politics of Scarcity 


1750 and 1850. This bonanza of found wealth lifted the yoke of ecologi- 
cal scarcity and, coincidentally, created all the peculiar institutions and 
values characteristic of modern civilization — democracy, freedom, and 

Indeed, the existence of such ecological abundance is an indispensable 
premise of the libertarian doctrines of John Locke and Adam Smith, the two 
thinkers whose works epitomize the modern bourgeois views of political 
economy on which all the institutions of open societies are based. For 
example, Locke (1690, paras. 27-29) justifies the institution of property by 
saying that it derives from the mixture of a man’s labor with the original 
commons of nature. But he continually emphasizes that for one man to 
make part of what is the common heritage of mankind his own property 
does not work to the disadvantage of other men. Why? Because “there was 
still enough and as good left; and more than the yet unprovided could use” 
(para. 33). His argument on property by appropriation is shot through with 
references to the wilderness of the New World, which only needed to be 
occupied and cultivated to be turned into property for any man who desired 
it. Lockes justification of original property and the natural right of a man to 
appropriate it from nature thus rests on cornucopian assumptions. There is 
always more left; society can therefore be libertarian. 

The economics of Adam Smith rests on a similar vision of ecological 
abundance. In fact, Smith is even more optimistic than Locke, for he stresses 
that the opportunity to become a man of property (and therefore to enjoy 
the benefits of liberty) now lies more in trade and industry than in agricul- 
ture, which is potentially limited by the availability of arable land. Indeed, says 
Smith, under prevailing conditions, simply striking off all the mercantilist 
shackles on economic development and permitting a free-for-all, laissez- 
faire system of wealth-getting to operate instead would generate 
“opulence,” which would in turn liberate men from the social and political 
restrictions of feudalism. Smiths The Wealth of Nations (1776) is therefore a 
manifesto for the attainment of political liberty through the economic 
exploitation of the found wealth of the Great Frontier. 

The liberal ideas of Locke and Smith have not gone unchallenged, 
but with very few exceptions, liberals, conservatives, socialists, com- 
munists, and other modern ideologists have taken abundance for granted 

* Of course, the idea of individualism antedated the discovery of the New 
World, but before that time there had been little opportunity for its concrete 
expression. However, once the boom permitted it to be expressed, 
individualism became the basis for almost all of the most characteristic features 
of modernity: self-rule in democracy, self-enrichment in industrial capitalism, 
and self-salvation in Protestantism. 



and assumed the necessity of further growth. They have disagreed only 
about how to produce enough wealth to satisfy the demands of hedonis- 
tic, materialistic “economic” men and about what constitutes a just 
division of the spoils. Karl Marx was even more utopian than either 
Locke or Smith, for he envisioned the eventual abolition of scarcity. He 
merely insisted that, on grounds of social justice, the march of progress be 
centrally directed by the state in the interest of those whose labor actually 
produced the goods. 

But the boom is now over. The found wealth of the Great Frontier 
has been all but exhausted. And technology is no real substitute, for it is 
merely a means of manipulating what is already there rather than a way of 
creating genuinely new resources on the scale of the Great Frontier. 
(Moreover, as we saw in Part I, technology is encountering limits of its 
own.) Thus a scarcity at least as intense as that prevailing in the 
premodern era, however different it may be in important respects, is 
about to replace abundance, and this will necessarily undercut the 
material conditions that have created and sustained current ideas, institu- 
tions, and practices. Once relative abundance and wealth of opportunity 
are no longer available to mitigate the harsh political dynamics of scarcity, 
the pressures favoring greater inequality, oppression, and conflict will 
build up, so that the return of scarcity portends the revival of age-old 
political evils, for our descendants if not for ourselves. In short, the golden 
age of individualism, liberty, and democracy (as those terms are currendy 
understood) is all but over. In many important respects, we shall be 
obliged to return to something resembling the premodern, closed polity. 
This conclusion will be reinforced by a more detailed exploration of the 
political problem of controlling the competitive overexploitation of 
resources that has produced the ecological crisis. 

The Tragedy of the Commons 

It has been recognized since ancient times that resources held or used in 
common tend to be abused. As Aristotle said, “What is common to the 
greatest number gets the least amount of care” (Barker 1962, p. 44). 
However, the dynamic underlying such abuse was first suggested by a 
little-known Malthusian of the early nineteenth century, William Forster 
Lloyd (cited in Hardin 1969, p. 29), who wondered why the cattle on a 
common pasture were “so puny and stunted” and the common itself 
“bare-worn.” He found that such an outcome was almost inevitable. 

People seeking gain naturally want to increase the size of their herds. 
Because the commons is finite, the day must come when the total 
number of cattle reaches the carrying capacity; the addition of more 

The Politics of Scarcity 


cattle will cause the pasture to deteriorate and eventually destroy the 
resource on which the herders depend. Yet even though this is the case, it 
is still in the rational self-interest of each herder to keep adding animals 
to his herd. Each reasons that his personal gain from adding animals 
outweighs his proportionate share of the damage done to the commons, 
for the damage is done to the commons as a whole and so is partitioned 
among all the users. Worse, even if he is inclined to self-restraint, an 
individual herder justifiably fears that others may not be. They will 
increase their herds and gain thereby while he does not, in spite of his 
having to suffer equally from the resulting damage. Competitive overex- 
ploitadon of the commons is the inevitable result. 

The same dynamic of competitive overexploitation applies to any 
“common-pool resource,” the economists term for resources held or 
used in common.* A classic illustration is the oil pool. Unless one person 
or organization controls the rights to exploit an oil pool or the owners of 
the rights can agree on a scheme of rational exploitation, it is in the 
interest of each user to extract oil from the common pool as fast as he or 
she possibly can; in fact, failure to do so exposes the individual owner to 
the risk that others will not leave him or her a fair share. Thus, in the early 
boom days of the American oil industry, drillers competed with each 
other to sink as many wells as possible on their properties. The resulting 
economic and political chaos was remedied by the establishment of state 
control boards that surveyed the pools and then allotted each owner a 
quota of production for each acre of oil-bearing land. Oil was thereby 
transformed from a common pool resource to private property; and 
exploitation proceeded thereafter in a largely rational and conflict-free 

The dynamic of the commons is particularly stark in the case of oil, 
for one person s gains are another’s losses. But even resources that could 
be exploited cooperatively to give a sustained yield in perpetuity are 
subject to the same dynamic. Fisheries are a prime example. At first there 
was abundance enough for all to exploit the resource freely. Conflicts 
occurred, but their impact was local. Fishing a little farther away or 

* We are grateful to Margaret McKean for suggesting the term common-pool 
resource for the term common-property resource used in the previous edition of this 
book. She argues that “if resources become property only when human beings 
attach rights and duties to them, then the problematic resources are 
non-property, not property.” She also points out that the “tragedy of the 
commons” — that is, tragic overuse — occurs only when human beings do not 
figure out a way to attach rights and duties to these resources in order to solve 
the problems of subtractibility or rivalness. 



improving techniques were alternatives to fighting over the limited 
resources in any particular area. In time, however, even the vastness of the 
ocean began to be more or less fully exploited, and people reacted just as 
they did in the early days of the oil business, overexploiting and destroy- 
ing fisheries. In response, coastal nations have privatized parts of the 
fishing common by declaring complete economic sovereignty over the 
oceans within 200 miles offshore, so that all the benefits of the nearby 
fishery would flow to their nationals.* One potential benefit of such 
“privatization” is that it then becomes possible, within these zones, for 
collective units such as fishing co-ops, to ban access and to internalize the 
important externalities. But fishing “wars” and other political conflicts 
over marine resources remain common in the open ocean. There, fishing 
operations have increased in scale and technical virtuosity, just as early oil 
drillers sank dozens of wells on a tiny piece of land. Technological 
progress in the fishing industry has produced gigantic floating factories, 
which use driftnets and other ultramodern techniques to catch fish and 
can or freeze them on the spot, thus eliminating the time that must be 
spent returning to port in traditional fishing.^" The result, not surprisingly, 
has been relentless competitive overexploitation and an alarming general 
decline in fish stocks. 

Pollution also exemplifies the self-destructive logic of the com- 
mons, for it simply reverses the dynamic of competitive overexploita- 
tion without altering its nature: The cost to me of controlling my 
emissions is so much larger than my proportionate share of the en- 
vironmental damage those emissions cause that it will always be 
rational for me to pollute if I can get away with it. In short, it profits 
me to harm the public. (It does not pay me to benefit the public either; 
see Box 19.) 

* The unratified Law of the Sea Convention (1982) recognizes offshore 
200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) for coastal nations (Corson 1990, p. 

Japanese fishing boats cover more than 500 square miles of Pacific Ocean 
waters with over 2 million miles of driftnets. The nets sweep up everything that 
swims into them, depleting the stock of desired species and causing the death or 
injury of 70% of the catch, including sea mammals, which are unwanted. Korea 
and Taiwan also driftnet in other areas of the Pacific. The United Nations 
General Assembly in 1989 called for a moratorium on high-seas driftnetting by 
1992, but unfortunately, the resolution allows nations to exempt themselves if 
they practice unspecified marine conservation measures. Japan, after first an- 
nouncing that it would exempt itself, recently indicated that it would comply 
with the moratorium. 

The Politics of Scarcity 


Unfortunately, virtually all ecological resources — airsheds, water- 
sheds, the land, the oceans, the atmosphere, biological cycles, the bio- 
sphere itself — are common-pool resources. For example, the smoke from 
factories or the exhaust gases from automobiles cannot be confined so 
that their noxious effects harm only those who produce them. They harm 
all in the common airshed. Even most resources that seem to be private 
property are in fact part of the ecological commons. The logging com- 
pany that cuts down a whole stand of trees in order to maximize its profits 
contributes to flooding, siltation, and the decline of water quality in that 
watershed. And if enough loggers cut down enough trees, even climate 
may be altered, as has occurred many times in the past. Now that the 
carrying capacity of the biosphere has been approached, if not exceeded, 
we are in serious danger of destroying all ecological resources by com- 
petitive overexploitation. Thus the metaphor of the commons is not 
merely an assertion of humanity s ultimate dependence on the ecological 
life-support systems of the planet; it is also an accurate description of the 
current human predicament. 

In short, resources that once were so abundant that they were freely 
available to all have now become ecologically scarce. Unless they are 
somehow regulated and protected in the common interest, the inevitable 
outcome will be the mutual ecological ruin that the human ecologist 
Garrett Hardin (1968) has called “the tragedy of the commons.” We need 
to apply much more widely the same kind of social rules and political 
controls that have traditionally governed the use of grazing lands and 
other commons in the past (although these controls have not always been 
sufficiently strong to avert partial or even total destruction of a resource). 

A Hobbesian Solution? 

Beyond telling us that the answer to the tragedy is “mutual coercion, 
mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected” — by which 
he means social restraint, not naked force — Hardin avoids political 
prescription. However, he does suggest that unrestrained exercise of our 
liberties does not bring us real freedom: “Individuals locked into the 
logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin; once they 
see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other 
goals.” By recognizing the necessity to abandon many natural freedoms 
we now believe we possess, we avoid tragedy and “preserve and nurture 
other and more precious freedoms.” There are obvious dangers in a 
regime of “mutual coercion,” but without restraints on individuals, the 
collective selfishness and irresponsibility generated by the logic of the 
commons will destroy the spaceship, so that any sacrifice of freedom by 









The Public-Goods Problem 

The public-goods problem is the obverse of the commons problem. 

Just as the rational individual gains by harming fellow members of the 
common, he loses by benefiting them with a public or collective good. 
At best, he gets only a small return on his investment; at worst, he is 
economically punished. For example, the good husbandman cannot sur- 
vive in a market economy; if he maintains his soil while his neighbors 
mine theirs for maximum yields, sooner or later he must either aban- 
don farming or become a subsistence farmer outside the market. He 
cannot afford to benefit posterity except at great personal sacrifice. 
Similarly, although a socially responsible plant owner might wish to 
control the pollution emanating from her plant, if she does it at her 
own expense whatever her competitors do, then the plant owner is at a 
competitive disadvantage. Thus the tragedy of the commons, in which 
the culprit gets all the benefits from transgressing the limits of the com- 
mons but succeeds in relegating most of the costs to others, is turned 
around. Those who try to benefit the common good soon discover 
that, while they pay all the costs, the other members of the community 
reap virtually all of the benefits. 

Of course, a producer could try to persuade consumers to pay 
premium prices for his products as a reward for his virtue. But he 

the crew members is clearly the lesser evil. After all, says Hardin, “injustice 
is preferable to total ruin,” so that “an alternative to the commons need 
not be perfectly just to be preferable” (Hardin 1968, pp. 1247-1248). 

Hardin’s implicit political theory is in all important respects identical 
to that of Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651). Hardin’s “logic of the 
commons” is simply a special version of the general political dynamic of 
Hobbes’s “state of nature.” Hobbes says that where men desire goods 
scarcer than their wants, they are likely to fall to fighting. Each knows 
individually that all would be better off if they abstained from fighting 
and found some way of equitably sharing the desired goods. However, 
they also realize that they cannot alter the dynamics of the situation by 
their own behavior. In the absence of a civil authority to keep the peace, 
personal pacifism merely makes them easy prey to others. Unless all can 
be persuaded or forced to lay down their arms simultaneously, nothing 

The Politics of Scarcity 


would be unlikely to find many buyers for products that, however “vir- 
tuous/' were no better than the cheaper ones of his competitors. 
Another conceivable solution would be for the manufacturer who in- 
tended to control pollution to take up a collection from all those af- 
fected. After all, if his or her pollution is harmful to them, they should 
be willing to pay something to reduce or eliminate it. However, even if 
the considerable practical difficulties of organizing such a scheme were 
overcome, it would almost certainly fail, for people are unlikely to con- 
tribute voluntarily to pollution reduction or to the production of any 
other kind of public good in optimal amounts. The reason is simple: It 
is entirely rational for individuals to try to make others pay most or all 
of the costs of a public good that benefits everyone equally; thus the 
good is never available in optimal quantity under market conditions. 

For example, no government can subsist on voluntary tax payments. If 
external defense, internal order, rules for economic competition, public 
health, education, and other public goods are to be produced in quan- 
tities that are rationally desirable for the society, then taxes must be 
compulsory on all its members. Similarly, if ecological public goods 
such as clean air and water and pleasant landscapes are to be provided 
in reasonable mounts, it will be only as a result of collective decisions. 
Thus, just as for the tragedy of the commons, the answer to the public- 
goods problem is authoritative political action. 

can prevent the war of all against all. The crucial problem in the state of 
nature is thus to make it safe for men to be reasonable, rather than merely 
“rational,” so that they can share peacefully what the environment has to 
offer. Hobbes’s solution was the erection, by a majority, of a sovereign 
power that would constrain all men to be reasonable and peaceful — that 
is, Hardin’s “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of 
the people affected.”* 

In the tragedy of the commons, the dilemma is not so stark as it is in 
the state of nature (political order is not at stake), but it is in many ways 
much more insidious, for even without evil propensities on the part of 
any person or group, the tragedy will occur. In the case of the village 

* For a fuller discussion of the virtual identity of analyses and prescriptions in 
Hardin and Hobbes, see Ophuls 1973. 



common, the actors can hardly avoid noticing the causal relationship 
between their acts and the deterioration of the commons, but in most 
cases of competitive overexploitation, individuals are not even aware of 
the damage that their acts are causing, and even if they are aware, their 
own responsibility seems infinitesimally dilute. Thus, to bring about the 
tragedy of the commons it is not necessary that people be bad, only that 
they not be actively good — that is, not altruistic enough to limit their 
own behavior when their fellows will not regularly perform acts of public 
generosity. That people are in fact not this altruistic is confirmed daily by 
behavior we all see around us (and see Schelling 1971). 

A perfect illustration of the insidiousness of the tragedy of the 
commons in operation is the situation of the inhabitants of Los Angeles 
vis-a-vis the automobile: 

Every person who lives in this basin knows that for twenty-five years he 
has been living through a disaster. We have all watched it happen, have 
participated in it with full knowledge just as men and women once went 
knowingly and willingly into the “dark Satanic mills.” The smog is the 
result of ten million individual pursuits of private gratification. But there 
is absolutely nothing that any individual can do to stop its spread. Each 
Angeleno is totally powerless to end what he hates. An individual act of 
renunciation is now nearly impossible, and, in any case, would be mean- 
ingless unless everyone else did the same thing. But he has no way of 
getting everyone else to do it. He does not even have any way to talk about 
such a course. He does not know how or where he would do it or what 
language he would use. (Carney 1972, pp. 28-29).* 

As this example clearly shows, the essence of the tragedy of the 
commons is that ones own contribution to the problem (assuming that 
one is even aware of it) seems infinitesimally small, while the disad- 
vantages of self-denial loom very large; self-restraint therefore appears to 

* People do know that by “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the 
majority of the people affected,” Los Angeles can control its air pollution. In 
1989 the Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD) 
proposed an ambitious antipollution plan that, if fully implemented, could 
reduce smog-producing emissions in the Los Angeles area by 70% 
(Elmer-Dewitt 1989, p. 65). But because the plan requires changes in the way 
people live and conduct business, it has been difficult to obtain mutual 
agreement. The AQMD has been forced to abandon several of its proposals, as 
critics contend variously that the plan is too expensive, too burdensome on 
them (higher downtown parking fees are an example), or that companies will 
relocate, resulting in a loss of jobs (Matthews 1991, p. A21). 

The Politics of Scarcity 


be both unprofitable and ultimately futile unless one can be certain of 
universal concurrence. Thus we are being destroyed ecologically not so 
much by the evil acts of selfish people as by the everyday acts of ordinary 
people whose behavior is dominated, usually unconsciously, by the 
remorseless self-destructive logic of the commons. 

The tragedy of the commons also exemplifies the political problem 
that agitated the eighteenth-century French political philosopher Jean- 
Jacques Rousseau, who made a crucial distinction between the “general 
will” and the “will of all.” The former is what reasonable people, leaving 
aside their self-interest and having the community’s interests at heart, 
would regard as the right and proper course of action. The latter is the 
mere addition of the particular wills of the individuals forming the polity, 
based not on a conception of the common good but only on what serves 
their own self-interest. The tragedy of the commons is simply a particular- 
ly vicious instance of the way in which the “will of all” falls short of the 
true common interest. In essence, Rousseau s answer to this crucial prob- 
lem in The Social Contract is not much different from Hobbes’s: Man must 
be “forced to be free” — that is, protected from the consequences of his 
own selfishness and shortsightedness by being made obedient to the 
common good or “general will,” which represents his real self-interest. 
Rousseau thus wants political institutions that will make people virtuous. 

It therefore appears that if under conditions of ecological scarcity, 
individuals rationally pursue their material self-interest unrestrained by a 
common authority that upholds the common interest, the eventual result is 
bound to be. common environmental ruin. In that case, we must have 
political institutions that preserve the ecological common good from 
destruction by unrestrained human acts. The problem that the environmen- 
tal crisis forces us to confront is, in fact, at the core of political philosophy: 
how to protect or advance the interests of the collectivity when the 
individuals who make it up (or enough of them to create a problem) behave 
(or are impelled to behave) in a selfish, greedy, and quarrelsome fashion. The 
only solution is a sufficient measure of coercion (see Box 20). According to 
Hobbes, a certain minimum level of ecological order or peace must be 
established; according to Rousseau, a certain minimum level of ecological 
virtue must be imposed by our political institutions. 

It hardly need be said that these conclusions about the tragedy of the 
commons radically challenge fundamental American and Western values. 
Under conditions of ecological scarcity, the individuals, possessing an 
inalienable right to pursue happiness as they define it and exercising their 
liberty in a basically laissez-faire system, will inevitably produce the ruin 
of the commons. Thus the individualistic basis of society, the concept of 
inalienable rights, the purely self-defined pursuit of happiness, liberty as 





The word coercion has a nasty fascist ring to it. However, politics is a 
means of taming and legitimating power, not dispensing with it. Any 
form of state power is coercive. A classic example is taxation, which is 
nowhere voluntary, for as the theory of public goods (see Box 19) tells 
us, the state would starve if it were. Assuming a reasonable degree of 
consensus and legitimacy, coercion means no more than a state- 
imposed structure of incentives and disincentives that is designed to 
advance the common interest. Even Locke’s libertarian political theory 
does not proscribe coercion: If the common interest is threatened, the 
sovereign must do whatever is necessary to protect it. Nevertheless, un- 
like Hobbes, Locke does try to set up inviolable spheres of private 
rights that the sovereign may not invade, and he also demands that 
power be continually beholden to consent of the governed. The dif- 
ference between Hobbes and Locke on the matter of coercion is one 
of degree, with Locke demanding more formal guarantees of limits on 
the sovereign s power than Hobbes believes are workable. In short, 
coercion is not some evil specter resurrected from an odious past. It is 
an inextricable part of politics, and the problem is how best to tame it 
and bend it to the common interest. 

Some aspire to do away with power politics and state coercion en- 
tirely by making people so virtuous that they will automatically do 

maximum freedom of action, and the laissez-faire principle itself all 
become problematic. All require major modification or perhaps even 
abandonment if we wish to avert inexorable environmental degradation 
and eventual extinction as a civilization. Certainly, democracy as we know 
it cannot conceivably survive.* 

* As we know it today, our current political system is essentially statist; the federal 
government is a bureaucratic and electoral behemoth, beholden to organized and 
monied interests, dedicated to the satisfaction of human appetite at the expense of 
nature. Such a “democracy” cannot survive. A genuine democracy that is 
fundamentally Jeffersonian and Thoreauvian in spirit and practice, however, can 
survive (see the discussion of these points in Chapter 8 and the Afterword). 

The Politics of Scarcity 


what is in the common interest. In fact, this is precisely what Rousseau 
proposes: small, self-sufficient, frugal, intimate communities inculcating 
civic virtue so thoroughly that citizens become the “general will” in-" 
carnate. However, this merely changes the locus of coercion from out- 
side to inside the job of law enforcement is handed over to the inter- 
nal police force of the superego — and many liberals (for example, 
Popper 1966) would argue that this kind of ideological or psychologi- 
cal coercion is far worse than overt controls on behavior. Nevertheless, 
political education cannot be done away with entirely, for without a 
reasonable degree of consensus and legitimacy, no regime can long en- 
dure. Thus it is again a question of balance. Hobbes and Rousseau, for 
example, would both agree that law enforcement and political educa- 
tion must be combined, however much they might disagree on what 
proportion of each is fitting. 

Political coercion in some form is inevitable. Failing to confront 
openly the issues it raises is likely to have the same effect repression 
has on the individual psyche: The repressed force returns in an un- 
healthy form. By contrast, if we face up to coercion, full political 
awareness will dispel its seeming nastiness, and we shall be able to 
tame it and make it a pillar of the common interest. (The next box 
suggests a way of taming Leviathan, and Chapter 8 discusses the 
politics of a steady-state society in more general terms.) 

This is an extreme conclusion, but it seems to follow from the 
extremity of the ecological predicament that industrial humanity has 
created for itself. Even Hobbes’s severest critics concede that he is most 
cogent when stark political choices are faced, for self-interest moderated 
by self-restraint may not be workable when extreme conditions prevail. 
Thus theorists have long analyzed international relations in Hobbesian 
terms, because the state of nature mirrors the state of armed peace 
existing between competing nation-states that are obedient to no higher 
power. Also, when social or natural disaster leads to a breakdown in the 
patterns of society that ordinarily restrain people, even the most liber- 
tarian governments have never hesitated to impose martial law as the only 
alternative to anarchy. Therefore, if nuclear holocaust rather than mere 
war, or anarchy rather than a moderate level of disorder, or destruction of 



the biosphere rather than mere loss of amenity is the issue, the extremity 
of Hobbes's analysis fits reality, and it becomes difficult to avoid his 
conclusions. Similarly, although Rousseau s ultimate aim was the creation 
of a democratic polity, he recognized that strong sovereign power (a 
“Legislator,” in Rousseaus language) may be necessary in certain cir- 
cumstances, especially if the bad habits of a politically “corrupt” people 
must be fundamentally reformed. 

Altruism Is Not Enough 

Some theorists hope or assert that attitudinal change will bring enough 
major changes in individual behavior to save a democratic, laissez-faire 
system from ecological ruin. However, except in very small and tightly 
knit social groups, education or the inculcation of rigid social norms is 
not sure proof against the logic of the commons. Apparently, it is simply 
not true that, once they are aware of the general gravity of the situation, 
a large number of people will naturally moderate their demands on the 
environment. A number of studies have shown that even the individuals 
who are presumably the most knowledgeable and concerned about 
population growth evince little willingness to restrain their own 
reproductive behavior (Attah 1973; Barnett 1971; Eisner et al. 1970). 
How much can we expect of most ordinary citizens? The problem is that 
in order to forestall the logic of the commons, people in overwhelming 
numbers must be prepared to do positive good whether or not cooperation 
is universal. And in a political culture that conceives of the common 
interest as being no more than the sum of our individual interests, it 
seems unlikely that we can prudently count on much help from unsup- 
ported altruism (this is not to say that people cannot be educated to be 
ecologically more responsible than they are at present). 

In any event, even the most altruistic individual cannot behave 
responsibly without full knowledge of the consequences of his or her 
acts — and such knowledge is not available. If even the experts fiercely 
debate the pros and cons of nuclear power or the effects of a particular 
chemical on the ozone layer, using highly abstruse analytical techniques 
and complex computer programs that only the specialist can fully under- 
stand, how is the ordinary citizen to know what the facts are? An 
additional problem is time. High rates of change and exponential growth 
are accompanied by a serious lag in public understanding. For example, it 
seems to take two to four generations for the ideas at the frontier of 
science to filter down to even the informed public. We have still not 

The Politics of Scarcity 


completely digested Darwin, much less Einstein and quantum mechanics. 
How reasonable is it to expect from the public at large a sophisticated 
ecological understanding any time soon, especially when the academic, 
business, professional, and political elites who constitute the so-called 
attentive and informed public show little sign of having understood, 
much less embraced, the ecological world view? (As noted in the 
foreword, children do seem to embrace an ecological world view when 
it is taught to them. This is an encouraging development, but it is not yet 
known how many curriculums include ecology or how many children 
will retain their world view as adults.) 

Others pin their hopes for a solution not on individual conscience 
but on the development of a collective conscience in the form of a 
world view or religion that sees humanity as the partner of nature 
rather than its antagonist. This attitude will undoubtedly be essential 
for our survival in the long term, because without basic popular 
support, even the most repressive regime could hardly hope to succeed 
in protecting the environment for long. However, mere changes in 
world view are not likely to be sufficient. Political and social arrange- 
ments that implement values are indispensable for turning ideals into 
actuality. For example, despite a basic world view profoundly respect- 
ful of nature, the Chinese have severely abused and degraded their 
environment throughout their very long history — more, ironically, 
than the premodern Europeans, who lacked a philosophy expressive of 
the same kind of natural harmony. Thus Chinese ideals were not proof 
against the urgency of human desires that drives the tragic logic of the 

It appears, therefore, that individual conscience and the right kind of 
cultural attitudes are not by themselves sufficient to overcome the short- 
term considerations that lead people to degrade their environment. Real 
altruism and genuine concern for posterity may not be entirely absent, 

* Some (for example, Reich 1971) would protest that our age is different and 
that a genuinely new consciousness is emerging. This view cannot simply be 
brushed aside, for substantial changes in values are clearly occurring in some 
segments of American society, and out of this essentially religious ferment, great 
things may come. For example, the “back to the land” movement has been 
much ridiculed, but its symbolic reaffirmation of our ties to the earth has already 
had a far from negligible impact on the larger society. Nevertheless, that these 
new values will become universal in the future appears to be essentially a matter 
of faith at this point. Past hopes for the emergence of a “new man” have been 
rudely treated by history, so it is difficult to be optimistic. 



but they are not present in sufficient strength to avert the tragedy. Only a 
government with the power to regulate individual behavior in the 
ecological common interest can deal effectively with the tragedy of the 

To recapitulate, the tragic logic of the commons is sustained by three 
premises: a limited commons, cattle that need ample grazing room to 
prevent the commons from becoming “bare-worn,” and rational, self- 
seeking herdspeople. If any one of these premises is removed, the tragedy 
is averted. As we have already seen, the Great Frontier in effect removed 
the first premise for nearly 400 years. It was precisely this that allowed 
John Locke, whose political argument is essentially the same as that of 
Hobbes in every particular except scarcity in the state of nature, to be 
basically libertarian, whereas Hobbes is basically authoritarian. Thanks to 
the Great Frontier, Locke and Smith found that there was so much 
abundance in the state of nature that a Hobbesian war of all against all was 
unlikely; every person could take away some kind of prize, and competi- 
tion would be socially constructive rather than destructive, with the 
“invisible hand” producing the greatest good for the society as a whole. 
Thus government was required only to keep the game honest— a mere 
referee, needing only modest powers and minimal institutional 
machinery — and individuals could be left alone to pursue happiness as 
they defined it without hindrance by society or the state. 

The frontier is gone now, and we have encountered the limits of the 
commons. However, the physical disappearance of the frontier was for a 
long time mitigated by technology, which allowed us to graze more cows 
on the same amount of pasture. Now we have reached the limits of 
technology: The cows are standing almost shoulder to shoulder, many are 
starving, and the manure is piling up faster than the commons can absorb 
it. All that remains is to alter the rational, self-seeking behavior of the 
individuals and groups that use the commons. This must be done by 
collective means, for the dynamic of the tragedy of the commons is so 
powerful that individuals are virtually powerless to extricate themselves 
unaided from its remorseless working. Our political institutions must 
indeed force us to be free. 

Legislating Temperance 

That we must give our political authorities great powers to regulate many 
of our daily actions is a profoundly distasteful thought. We tend to see 
political systems that do not bestow our kind of political and economic 
liberties as “totalitarian,” a word that brings to mind all the evil features 

The Politics of Scarcity 


of past dictatorships. But even Hobbes, no matter how firm his convic- 
tion in the necessity of absolutism, certainly did not have Stalinesque 
tyranny in mind. Hobbes makes clear that order in the commonwealth is 
not the goal but is rather the means without which the fruits of civiliza- 
tion cannot be enjoyed. The sovereign power is to procure the “safety of 
the people... But by safety here is not meant a bare preservation but also 
all other contentments of life which every man by lawful industry, 
without danger or hurt to the commonwealth, shall acquire to himself’ 
(Hobbes 1651, p. 262). And it is part of the task of the sovereign power to 
actively promote these “contentments of life” among its subjects. Fur- 
thermore, Hobbes will not countenance tyranny. The sovereign power 
must rule lawfully, give a full explanation of its acts to its subjects, and 
heed their legitimate desires. Through wise laws and education, the 
subjects will learn moral restraint. Also, the sovereign power is not to be a 
dictator regulating every action of the citizen: it does not “bind the 
people from all voluntary actions” but only guides them with laws that 
Hobbes likens to “hedges. . .set not to stop travelers, but to keep them in 
their ways” (p. 272). Thus many different styles of rule and of life are 
compatible with his basic analysis. 

Similarly, Hardin makes it clear that the problem is to “legislate 
temperance,” not to institute iron discipline. He acknowledges that this 
may require the use of administrative law, with the consequent risk of 
abuse of power by the administrators. However, he believes that the 
application of his formula of “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by 
the majority of the people affected,” would be an adequate defense 
against bureaucratic tyranny, for we would be democratically coercing our- 
selves to behave responsibly (Hardin 1968, p. 1247). 

The question of political will is therefore crucial. Given a basic 
willingness to restrain individual self-seeking and legislate social 
temperance, social devices acceptable to reasonable persons and suited to 
a government of laws could readily be found to serve as the “hedges” that 
will keep us on the path of the steady state.* For example, law professor 
Christopher Stone (1974) proposes giving natural objects, such as trees, 

* Merely increasing the power of the state is no solution. As will be shown in 
Chapter 7 (and contrary to the opinion of many), mere socialism is not a real 
solution to the tragedy of the commons. That is, giving the state ownership of 
the means of production is not very useful if the state is committed to economic 
expansion, for the same ecologically destructive dynamic operates within a 
socialist economic bureaucracy as in the capitalist marketplace (see Heilbroner 
1974 on this point). 



mountains, rivers, and lakes, legal rights (comparable to those now en- 
joyed by corporations) that could be enforced in court. 

However, although the socioeconomic machinery needed to enforce 
a steady-state political economy need not involve dictatorial control over 
our everyday lives, it will indeed encroach upon our freedom of action, 
for any social device that is effective as a hedge will necessarily prevent us from 
doing things we are now free to do or make us do things we now prefer not to do. 
It could hardly be otherwise: If we can safely squeeze no more cattle onto 
the commons, then we herders must be satisfied either with the herds we 
now possess or, more likely, with the lesser number of cattle that the 
commons can tolerate ecologically over the long term. The solution to 
the tragedy of the commons in the present circumstances requires a 
willingness to accept less — perhaps much less — than we now get from 
the commons. No technical devices will save us. In order to be able 
mutually to agree on the restraints we wish to apply to ourselves, we must 
give up the exercise of rights we now enjoy and bind ourselves to 
perform public duties in the common interest. The only alternative to 
this kind of self-coercion is the coercion of nature — or perhaps that of an 
iron regime that will compel our consent to living with less. 

Technology’s Faustian Bargain 

Given this unpalatable conclusion, the seductive appeal of technological 
optimism is apparent: If adjusting human demands to the available ecological 
resources will entail a greater degree of political authority, then let us by all 
means press on with the attempt to surmount the limits to growth 
technologically. Thus, to the extent that technologists concede the necessity 
of a steady state, they aim at a “maximum-feasible” steady state of tech- 
nological superabundance in which we will use our alleged mastery of 
inexhaustible energy resources to evade ecological constraints, instead of 
learning to live frugally on flow resources such as solar energy. As we have 
seen, the barriers to success in such an enterprise are enormous, but for the 
sake of argument, let us put aside all questions of practicality and ask instead 
what would be the political consequences of implementing these kinds of 
technological solutions to ecological scarcity. 

* In reality, a maximum-feasible steady state is a virtual contradiction in terms, 
for squeezing the maximum out of nature runs contrary to basic ecological 
principles. Only a life lived comfortably within the circle of natural 
interdependence merits the designation “steady state.” But the technological 
optimists customarily talk as though there were no possible model of the steady 
state other than the maximum-feasible one. 

The Politics of Scarcity 


Alvin Weinberg, who was for many years director of the Atomic 
Energy Commissions Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has been a 
leading spokesman for the technological fix, especially nuclear power. 
Indeed, he has castigated environmentalists for proposing “social fixes” 
to ecological problems; he argues that technological solutions are “more 
humane” because they do not “disrupt the economy and... cause the 
human suffering that such disruption would entail” (Weinberg 1972b). 
Yet Weinberg himself admits that the specific technological solution he 
proposes comes with a truly monstrous social fix firmly attached! Be- 
cause nuclear wastes will have to be kept under virtually perpetual 
surveillance, and because nuclear technology places the most exacting 
demands on our engineering and management capabilities, 

We nuclear people have made a Faustian bargain with society. On the one 
hand, we offer.. .an inexhaustible source of energy [the breeder reactor].... 
But the price that we demand of society for this magical energy is both a 
vigilance and a longevity of our social institutions that we are quite 
unaccustomed to [Weinberg 1972a, p. 33]. 

Part of this price is politically ominous: 

In a sense, what started out as a technological fix for the energy-environment 
impasse — clean, inexhaustible, and fairly cheap nuclear power — involves so- 
cial fixes as well: the creation of a permanent cadre or priesthood of respon- 
sible technologists who will guard the reactors and the wastes so as to assure 
their continued safety over millennia [Weinberg 1973, p. 431]. 

Expanding on the “priesthood” theme, Weinberg tells us that because 
“our commitment to nuclear energy is assumed to last in perpetuity,” we 
will need “a permanent cadre of experts that will retain its continuity over 
immensely long times [but this] hardly seems feasible if the cadre is a 
national body,” for “no government has lasted continuously for 1,000 
years.” What kind of organization does possess the requisite continuity? 

Only the Catholic Church has survived more or less continuously for 
2,000 years or so... The Catholic Church is the best example of [the 
International Authority] I have in mind: a central authority that proclaims 
and to a degree enforces doctrine, maintains its own long-term social 
stability, and has connections to every country’s own Catholic Church 
[cited in Speth et al. 1974, emphasis added]. 

In proposing such a technological “priesthood,” Weinberg appears to 
be a true heir of the French utopian social philosopher Claude Henri 



Saint-Simon (1760-1825), one of the earliest prophets of technocracy, 
who believed that it was humanity’s mission to transcend nature with 
technology Distressed by the disruptive social effects of technology 
within a bourgeois, laissez-faire political economy, Saint-Simon aspired to 
create a stable, organic civilization such as that of the Middle Ages, but 
with science as its religion. To this end he proposed the creation, on the 
model of the Catholic Church, of a scientific priesthood that would both 
dispense political justice and promote the economic wealth of society. 
Saint-Simon stressed social planning, the necessity for authority based on 
scientific expertise, the subordination of the individual to the needs of 
society as determined by the experts, and the integration of society and 
technology — all themes that emerge in the writings of modern tech- 
nological visionaries. 

By whatever name it comes to be called, technocratic government is 
likely to be the price of Weinbergs Faustian bargain. It will not be 
formally voted in, of course, but will emerge in a series of small but fateful 
steps as we follow what seems to be the line of least resistance through 
our environmental problems. Indeed, critics were alarmed by the civil- 
rights implications of the safeguards proposed by the Atomic Energy 
Commission in its draft environmental-impact statement on plutonium 
recycling. These included the establishment of a federal police force for 
the protection of plutonium plants and shipments, the extension of 
current military security-clearance procedures to include all the civilians 
who might have access to plutonium, and generally increased police 
powers to cope with the security requirements of a plutonium-based 
power economy (Speth et al. 1974). The United States abandoned its 
breeder reactor program in 1984, but the fact remains that there may be 
no way to ensure the social stability — indeed, the near-perfect social 
institutions — necessary for an era of nuclear power except with an 
engineered society under the direction of a technocratic priesthood. 

A Pact with the Devil? 

It is not nuclear technology alone that offers a pact with a devil who will 
in the end claim our political souls. Few technological optimists are as 
candid as Weinberg about the political implications of the solutions they 
propose, but technocracy has been looming on the horizon for some 
time. Harrison Brown, a scientist who foresaw most of today s ecological 
concerns almost four decades ago, predicted that the instability of in- 
dustrial society would become greater as development proceeded. This 
and other organizational requirements, he said, will make ever-greater 
social control necessary, so that “it is difficult to see how the achievement 

The Politics of Scarcity 


of stability and the maintenance of individual liberty can be made 
compadble” (Brown 1954, p. 255). Buckminster Fuller, one of the most 
visionary of the supertechnologists, states plainly that those who run 
“Spaceship Earth” cannot afford to make “concessions to the non- 
synergetic thinking (therefore the ignorantly conditioned reflexes) of the 
least well advised of the potential mass customers [that is, the average 
citizen]” (Fuller 1968, p. 367). Numerous other writers of varying per- 
suasions see the same trend: more technology means greater complexity 
and greater need for knowledge and technical expertise; the average 
citizen will not be able to make a constructive contribution to decision 
making, so that “experts” and “authorities” will rule perforce; and 
because accidents cannot be permitted, much less individual behavior 
that deviates from technological imperatives, the grip of planning and 
social control will of necessity become a stranglehold (Bell 1973; Cham- 
berlin 1970; Heilbroner 1974). 

Thus, the danger in the Faustian bargain lies in the mounting 
complexity of technology and with the staggering problems of managing 
the response to ecological scarcity, for these problems will require us to 
depend on a special class of experts in charge of our survival and 
well-being: a “priesthood of responsible technologists.” 

Democracy versus Elite Rule: The Issue of Competence 

One of the key philosophical supports of democracy is the assumption that 
people do not differ gready in competence, for if they do, effective govern- 
ment may require the sacrifice of political equality and majority rule. Indeed, 
under certain circumstances democracy must give way to elite rule. As the 
eminent political scientist and democratic theorist Robert Dahl points out, 
in a political association whose members “differ crucially in their competence, 
such as a hospital or a passenger ship, a reasonable man will want the most 
competent people to have authority over the matters on which they are 
most competent” (Dahl 1970, p. 58, emphasis added). In other words, the 
more closely one’s situation resembles a perilous sea voyage, the stronger the 
rationale for placing power and authority in the hands of the few who know 
how to run the ship. 

Ecological scarcity appears to have created precisely such a situation. 
Critical decisions must be made. Although it is true that most of them are 
“trans-scientific” in that they can only be made politically by prudent 
people, at least the basic scientific elements of the problems must be 
understood reasonably well before an informed political decision is 
possible. However, the average person has neither the time to inform 
himself or herself nor the requisite background for understanding such 



complex technical problems. Moreover, many people are simply not 
intelligent enough or well enough educated to grasp the issues, much less 
the important features of the problems. Even highly attentive and com- 
petent specialists do not always understand the problems fully. Even when 
they do (or claim to), they can almost always be found on both sides of 
any major question of public policy. (The dispute over nuclear-reactor 
safety is a prime example, with Nobelists lining up both for and against 
nuclear power.) Thus, even assuming that the politicians and people 
understand the issue well enough to ask the right questions, which 
experts should they listen to? Can they understand what the experts are 
saying? If we grant that the majority of the people probably will not 
understand and are therefore not competent to decide such issues, is it 
very likely that the political leaders they select will themselves be com- 
petent enough to deal with these issues? And even if they are, how can 
these leaders make authoritative decisions that impose heavy present costs 
or that violate popular expectations for the sake of future advantages 
revealed to them only as special knowledge derived from complicated 
analysis, perhaps even as the Delphic pronouncements of a computer? 

Such questions about the viability of democratic politics in a super- 
technological age propel us toward the political thought of Plato. In The 
Republic , the fountainhead of all Western political philosophy, Plato ar- 
gued that the polity was like a ship sailing dangerous waters. It therefore 
needed to be commanded by the most competent pilots; to allow the 
crew, ignorant of the art of navigation, to participate in running the vessel 
would be to invite shipwreck. Thus the polity would have to be run by 
an elite class of guardians, who would themselves be guided by the cream 
of this elite, the philosopher-kings. As the quotation from Dahl suggests, 
to the extent that Plato’s analogy of the ship of state approximates reality, 
his political prescriptions are difficult to evade. This is precisely why, from 
Aristotle on, those who have favored democratic rather than oligarchic 
politics have concerned themselves with keeping the political com- 
munity small enough and simple enough so that elite rule would not be 
necessary for social survival. The emerging large, highly developed, com- 
plex technological civilization operating at or very near the ecological 
margin appears to fit Plato’s premises more and more closely, foreshadow- 
ing the necessity of rule by a class of Platonic guardians, the “priesthood 
of responsible technologists” who alone know how to run the spaceship. 

Such a development has always been implicit in technology, as the 
ideas of Saint-Simon suggest, but the need for it has become unmistak- 
able in a crowded world living close to the ecological limits, for only 
through the most exquisite care can we avert the collapse of the tech- 
nological Leviathan we are well on the way to creating. C. S. Lewis 

The Politics of Scarcity 


observed that “What we call Man s power over Nature turns out to be a 
power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its 
instrument” (Lewis 1965, p. 69), and it appears that the greater the 
technological power, the more absolute the political power that must be 
yielded up to some people by the others. Thus we must ask ourselves 
whether continued technological growth will not merely serve to replace 
the so-called tyranny of nature with a potentially even more odious 
tyranny of people. Why indeed should we deliver ourselves over to a 
“priesthood of responsible technologists” who are merely technical ex- 
perts and may well lack the excellence of character and deep philosophi- 
cal understanding that Plato insists his guardians must possess in order to 
justify their rule? In fact, why accept the rule of even a genuinely Platonic 
elite possessed of both wisdom and expertise when all history teaches us 
that the abilities, foresight, and goodwill of mortal people are limited and 
imperfects The technological response to ecological scarcity thus raises 
profound political issues, in particular one of the most ancient and 
difficult political dilemmas — quis custodiet ipsos custodes? “Who will watch 
the guardians themselves?” 

Technology and the Path to a Brave New World 

Modern humanity has used technology along with energy to try to 
transcend nature. We have seen that it cannot be done; nature is not to be 
transcended by a biological organism that depends on it. Worse, any 
attempt to do so will have momentous political and social consequences. 
Far from protecting us from painful and disruptive social changes, as the 
technological optimist is wont to claim, continued technological growth 
is likely to force such changes on us. We are, in fact, in the process of 
making the Faustian bargain without ever having consciously decided to 
do so. As a result, we appear to be traveling down the road to total 
domination by technique and the machine, to the “Brave New World” 
that Aldous Huxley (1932) warned was the logical end point of a 
hedonistic, high-technology civilization.* 

Technology may not be inherently evil, but it does have side effects, 
and it does exact a social price. Moreover, in the hands of less-than-per- 

* All the techniques of social control and biological manipulation forecast in 
Huxley’s dystopian novel are being invented today in our laboratories (Cohen 
1973; Delgado 1969; Holden 1973; Kass 1971, 1972; Skinner 1971). And well 
before these developments occurred, Huxley (1958) was himself appalled to 
witness in his own lifetime much of what he had imagined as taking place six 
or seven hundred years in the future. 




Taming Leviathan: Macro- constraints 
and Micro-freedoms 

The only escape from the political dilemma of ecological scarcity — 
authoritative rule or ecological ruin — is indicated in the Epigraph: If 
people exercise sufficient self-control of their passions, the fetters of ex- 
ternal authority become unnecessary Unfortunately, political history 
suggests that the level of moral restraint and altruism to be expected 
from the members of large, complex, mass societies is limited at best. 
These virtues are even less likely to be found in industrial civilization, 
for its citizens have been brought up to believe that satisfying their 
hedonistic wants is not only legitimate but positively virtuous. Besides, 
in complicated and highly interdependent societies, even the most will- 
ing citizen would not know how to be ecologically virtuous without a 
large amount of central direction and coordination. In other words, un- 
less we return to face-to-face, simple, decentralized, small-community 
living — which may be a desirable long-term goal (so Chapter 8 will 
argue) but is hardly a short-term possibility — we are stuck with the 
problem of making authority palatable and protecting ourselves from 
those who would abuse their ecological guardianship. 

Traditional political theory has proposed many answers to this prob- 
lem. However, one basic principle stands out: If self-restraint is inade- 
quate, macro-constraints are vasdy to be preferred to micro-constraints, 
for the psychological differences between them are crucial. That is, 
limitations on our freedom that are indirect, remote, and impersonal are 

feet human beings, technology can never be neutral, as its proponents too 
often claim; it can only be used for good or evil. Thus technological fixes 
are dangerous surrogates for political decisions. There is no escape from 
politics. As a consequence of ecological scarcity, major ethical, political, 
economic, and social changes are inevitable whatever we do. The choice 
is between change that happens to us as a “side effect” of ever-more- 
stringent technological imperatives and change that is deliberately 
selected as compatible with our values. 

Unfortunately, at this point even total renunciation of technology as 
dangerous to our democratic health would not enable us to avoid all the 

The Politics of Scarcity 


preferable to those that are direct, proximate, and personal. In the 
former case, the limitations become an almost invisible part of “the way 
things are,” instead of obvious impositions. For example, modern 
humans feel generally free despite their nearly total submission to such 
powerful but faceless forces as technological change and the 
marketplace; the feudal peasant, by contrast, was so bound up in a web 
of direct personal obligations that he felt much less free, even though 
this web of obligations may have been in important respects less tyran- 
nical in practice than the impersonal forces to which modern humanity 
is obliged to submit. Putting the matter more abstractly, the contem- 
porary political philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1969) has defined freedom as 
the number of doors open to a person, how open they are, and upon 
what prospects they open. All other things being equal, then, the widest 
number of meaningful options brings the maximum of freedom; macro- 
freedom is the sum of the micro-freedoms available to us. Because the 
destruction of the commons leaves us with few meaningful options, 
some of the doors now available to us must be partly or even complete- 
ly closed, but if we wish to preserve a sense of freedom, then this 
should be done in ways that limit the micro-freedoms, or close the 
doors of daily life, as little as possible. 

Thus an effective way of making authority acceptable is to impose 
macro-constraints that encourage the behavior necessary to maintain a 
steady- state society but to leave individuals with a relative abundance of 
micro-freedoms that, when added up, give them an overall sense of 
freedom. How such a steady-state society might be “designed” will be 
discussed in Chapter 8. 

political dilemmas described above. During the transition to any form of 
steady state one can envision, it would be imperative to minimize 
pollution and use resources as efficiently as possible, and this probably 
would mean greater centralization and expert control in the short term, 
even if the long-term goal is a technologically simple, decentralized 
society favorable to a democratic politics. 

Even beyond the transition period, whether a steady-state society can 
be democratic is at least questionable. A society cannot persist as a 
genuine democracy unless the people in their majority understand tech- 
nology and ecology well enough to make responsible decisions. And 




The Ecological Contract 

The Great Frontier and the Industrial Revolution unleashed forces that 
eventually destroyed the medieval political synthesis, which was based 
generally on the Heaven-ordained hierarchy of the “great chain of 
being” and specifically on the “divine right of kings.” Changing 
economic conditions gradually transferred de facto political power from 
monarchs, priests, and nobles to the enterprising middle classes. Al- 
though at first the bourgeoisie acquiesced in continued autocratic rule 
and aristocratic patronage, it eventually tired of supporting what it 
came to see as unproductive social parasites; it overthrew the anden 
regime and embarked on democratic self-rule, the only form of govern- 
ment that could be intellectually and practically reconciled with its 
new sense of individualism. Such major transfers of power must be 
theoretically and morally legitimated, and the “social contract” theory 
of government was devised to fulfill this need. 

In essence, the theory of the social contract says that individuals are 
not part of a preexisting hierarchy to which they must unquestioningly 
adapt but rather are free to decide how they wish to be ruled. It is thus 
primarily concerned with how free and equal individuals (starting from 
an anarchic “state of nature”) can come together to erect political in- 
stitutions that will preserve their individual rights to the fullest extent 
yet also promote the social harmony they need to enjoy these rights in 

although the technology of a frugal steady state should be more accessible 
to the average persons understanding than current technology is, the 
same may not be true of the ecological knowledge on which the 
steady-state society will have to be based. Intuition and common sense 
alone are of little help in understanding the counterintuitive complexity 
of the human ecosystem — and nowhere else can a little knowledge be so 
dangerous. Thus, although not intrinsically mysterious, ecology is esoteric 
in the sense that only those whose talents and training have equipped 
them to be the “specialists in the general” discussed in the Introduction 
are likely to possess the kind of competence that would satisfy Dahls 
“reasonable man.” The ecologically complex steady-state society may 
therefore require, if not a class of ecological guardians, then at least a class 

The Politics of Scarcity 


peace. Ironically, the device of the social contract was used by Hobbes 
to provide secular support for monarchy, starting from the individualis- 
tic, hedonistic, and materialistic premises of the bourgeois world view. 
However, as it was later developed by Locke and Rousseau, the social 
contract became the foundation for popular sovereignty and liberal 
democracy (even Marxism has very deep roots in Rousseau s thought). 
The untrammeled individual was now king. 

As a product of the Great Frontier, the theory of the social contract 
is fundamentally cornucopian: Nature’s abundance being endless and in- 
exhaustible, one has only to solve the problem of achieving social har- 
mony through a just division of the spoils. Nature is thus external to 
politics. But these cornucopian premises have become as anomalous in 
an age of ecological scarcity as the divine right of kings was in the era 
of the Great Frontier and the Industrial Revolution. Ecology and 
politics are now inseparable; out of prudent self-restraint, if for no other 
reason, a valid political theory of the steady state will be obliged to give 
the same weight to ecological harmony as to social harmony. Thus, just 
as it was the task of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century political 
philosophers to create the social-contract theory of government to take 
account of the new socioeconomic conditions and justify the political 
ascent of the bourgeois class, so it will be the duty of the next genera- 
tion of philosophers to create an “ecological-contract” theory promot- 
ing harmony not just among humans, but also between humanity and 

of ecological mandarins who possess the esoteric knowledge needed to 
run it well. Whatever its level of material affluence, the steady-state 
society will not only be ostensibly more authoritarian and less 
democratic than the industrial societies of today (the necessity of coping 
with the tragedy of the commons would alone ensure that), but it may 
also be more oligarchic as well, with full participation in the political 
process restricted to those who possess the ecological and other com- 
petencies necessary to make prudent decisions.* 

* In Chapter 8, we present the conditions for an ecological democracy which 
could avoid these consequences. 



Hard Political Realities and a New Paradigm 

In summary, scarcity in general erodes the material basis for the relatively 
benign individualistic and democratic politics characteristic of the 
modern industrial era. Ecological scarcity in particular seems to engender 
overwhelming pressures toward political systems that are frankly 
authoritarian by current standards, for there seems to be no other way to 
check competitive overexploitation of resources and to ensure competent 
direction of a complex society’s affairs in accordance with steady-state 
imperatives. Leviathan may be mitigated but not evaded (see Box 21). 

Ecological scarcity thus forces us to confront once again, perhaps in 
a particularly acute form, the hard realities and cruel dilemmas of classical 
politics, from which four centuries of abnormal abundance have shielded 
us. As a result, we shall have to reexamine fundamental political questions 
in the light of ecology and construct a new steady-state paradigm of 
politics based on ecological premises instead of on the individualistic, 
hedonistic, materialistic, and anthropocentric premises of bourgeois “so- 
cial contract” theory (see Box 22). The alternative is to let the shape of 
the steady-state paradigm be decided for us by accepting the outcome of 
current trends toward technocracy. 

Given current political values, this may not seem like much of a 
choice. However, the one sure thing is that current values and institutions 
will not be able to endure unchanged. Moreover, as we shall see in 
Chapter 8, the latitude of choice is wider than might be suspected; 
indeed, the crisis of ecological scarcity might actually be turned into a 
grand opportunity to build a more humane and genuinely democratic 
post-industrial society. In the next two chapters, we shall explore specific 
features of the American political economy to determine how well it is 
likely to cope with the challenges of ecological scarcity. 


The American Political 
Economy I: 

Ecology Plus Economics 
Equals Politics 

Having discussed the politics of scarcity in general, we now turn to the 
particulars of the American situation. As difficult as it sometimes is to 
keep economics and politics separate, especially in this country, we shall 
discuss the economic aspects of political economy in this chapter and take 
up the more political aspects in the next. However, both chapters share an 
approach different from that taken in by most critiques of the American 
system. We are not interested here in whether the system falls short of the 
democratic ideal of freedom, equality, and justice but only in whether it 
is likely to be able to surmount without fundamental change the chal- 
lenge of ecological scarcity. To this question both chapters give essentially 
the same answer: Ecological scarcity undercuts the basic laissez-faire, 
individualistic premises of the American political economy so that cur- 
rent institutions are incapable of meeting the challenges of scarcity. What 
is needed is a new paradigm of politics. 

Market Failures and Social Costs 

As noted in the Introduction, at least some critics of the limits-to-growth 
argument rely heavily on the market price mechanism to ensure a 
smooth, gradual transition to the steady state whenever it becomes 
necessary. They believe that as the costs of fuels and materials rise owing 




to scarcity, and as the costs of pollution control increase, further growth 
will become uneconomic; the steady state will therefore be ushered in 
automatically by market processes. In fact, however, in its current form 
the competitive market system is an environmental villain — part of the 
problem that must be solved, rather than the solution. Let us examine 
how the market fails to deal appropriately with common-pool resources, 
resource depletion, and other aspects of ecological scarcity. 

According to Adam Smith, self-interested participants in a competi- 
tive the common good 

by ^ e “invisible hand” of the mark ^jfriat is, with consumers and 
producerwcmi^SfflJIHByTtfflia^ own gain, the market will 

automatically allocate resources with greatest efficiency and generate a 
maximum of individual and social prosperity. Thanks to the invisible 
hand, self-seeking individuals, despite the lack of any intention to do so, 
will benefit their fellows as they enrich themselves. Smith therefore 
argued for a laissez-faire, competitive market system of economics. 

As we have seen, the premise of abundance necessary to support 
Smith’s contention has vanished. Thanks to ecological scarcity, rational 
self-seeking individuals, despite the lack of any intention to do so, harm 
their fellows as they attempt to enrich themselves. As steady-state 
economist Herman Daly (1973, p. 17) aptly puts it, the invisible hand has 
turned into an “invisible foot” that threatens to destroy the common 
good with pollution and other “external diseconomies” or “exter- 
nalities,” the economists terms for the social costs of production that are 
not accounted for in the price mechanism. In fact, the problem of the 
invisible foot is simply the economic version of the commons problem 
discussed in the preceding chapter. Individuals rationally seeking gain (or 
at least non-loss) are virtually compelled by the logic of the marketplace 
commons to make economic micro-decisions that are aggregated by the 
invisible foot into an ecological macro-decision that is increasingly 
destructive for the society as a whole — and therefore, paradoxically, for 
the individual as well. Thus an unregulated, competitive, laissez-faire 
market system, in which all have access to the economic commons and in 
which common-pool resources are treated as free goods, has produced a 
tragedy of the commons: the overuse, misuse, and degradation of re- 
sources on which we all depend for ecological health and economic 

Other properties of a free-for-all system of wealth getting strongly 
reinforce its tendency to,jdest. my.,^he commons. For one thing, market 
decisions are inevital^y^hort-sighted,)because the economic value of the 
future is understated^^T^ ^ise ertittted. ” Future values are usually dis- 
counted at the interest rate available to a prudent investor; at a 7% 

The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus Economics Equals Politics 


interest/ discount rate, the investor would just as soon have $100,000 now 
as $800,000 in 30 years. Why? Because if he or she invests the $100,000 
at 7%, it will be worth $800,000 in 30 years. The investor will have the 
same amount of money and will have run little or no risk to get it. 
Similarly, at the same interest/discount rate, a resource that 30 years from 
now will be worth $800,000 has a present value of no more than 
$100,000. In fact, for all practical purposes, costs and benefits more than 
20 years in the future are discounted to zero; owing in part to such 
additional factors as the prevailing rate of return on capital, it is a rare 
economic decision maker whose time horizon extends more than 10 
years into the future. Thus critical ecological resources that will be 
essential for our well-being even 30 years from now not only have no 
value to rational economic decision makers, but scarcely enter their 
calculations at all. They are therefore likely to make decisions that 
irreversibly deplete or destroy vital resources (especially since each 
decision maker realistically fears that his or her own self-restraint would 
simply hand over to another the opportunity for profit). Thus, as Karl 
Marx put it a century ago, the watchword of market capitalism is “ Apres 
nous le deluge as entrepreneurs strive to maximize current benefits at the 
expense of the future. 

An additional problem is that although the market price mechanism 
handles incremental change with relative ease, it tends to break dowi> 
when confronted with absolute scarcity or even marked discrepancies 
between supply and demand. In such situations (for example, in famines), 
the market collapses or degenerates into uncontrolled inflation, because 
the increased price is incapable of calling forth an equivalent increase in 
supply.* In a famine, supply and demand are eventually brought into 
balance by death, emigration, or the deus ex machina of relief efforts — that 
is, by physical readjustments, not by the price mechanism. Thus the 
market is unlikely to preside over a smooth and trouble-free transition to 
a steady state, for the crisis of ecological scarcity involves absolute physical 
scarcities (lack of food, water, time, or human physiological tolerance for 
poisons) that mere money can remedy, if at all, only in part (and certainly 
not indefinitely or all at once). Indeed, shortages leading to rising prices 

* To use the economist’s terms, the market is splendid at coping with 
relative scarcity, shifting the burden of scarcity so that it is least 
uncomfortable (for example, by inducing substitution of one resource for 
another), but it is incapable of dealing with absolute scarcity except by 
raising prices in general — that is, through inflation. There is reason to 
suspect that this is the underlying cause of the inflation existing in the 
industrialized world. 



may simply increase the incentives to exploit remaining resources heed- 
lessly in a desperate attempt to meet current demand. Rising prices, then, 
are not likely to induce timely and appropriate responses to ecological 
scarcity, and they will certainly not preserve resources from exhaustion 
and degradation. In fact, they may simply intensify the pressures that are 
producing the current mode of ecological overshoot. 

There are other reasons why the market may fail to respond smooth- 
ly and appropriately to the price signals generated by ecological scarcity. 
For one thing, scarcity tends to induce competitive bidding and preemp- 
tive buying, which lead to price fluctuations, market disruption, and the 
inequitable or inappropriate distribution of resources. For example, un- 
warranted fears that oil supplies might be scarce after Iraq invaded Kuwait 
in 1990 caused speculative bidding and major rises in the price of oil, 
resulting in oil shortages in Eastern Europe and the developing world, 
whose economies could not bear the increased costs. Similarly, despite an 
alleged timber shortage in the continental United States (used by logging 
interests as an argument against controls on ecologically destructive 
practices), the primeval forests of Alaska, one of the few remaining large 
sources of high-grade timber in the United States, are being intensively 
logged for export to Japan, instead of being preserved for our own future 
needs (Harnik 1973). 

Economists also assume that consumers will respond in a reasonably 
elastic fashion to rising prices due to ecological scarcity. However, this is 
by no means obvious. For one thing, many consumer decisions are based 
on factors other than price. For instance, very great differentials in cost are 
not enough to lure most drivers out of their cars into mass transit, because 
such factors as prestige and convenience are more important to the 
consumer than mere price. Thus only prohibitive increases in cost would 
be likely to reduce significantly the private ownership and use of 
automobiles. In addition, prior investment decisions may lock consumers 
into using a specific resource, regardless of price. Homeowners and 
industries that use natural gas for space or process heat, for example, 
cannot easily switch to substitute forms of energy in the short term, no 
matter what happens to the price of natural gas. Even very high prices, 
then, may not be sufficient to keep the consumption of ecologically 
damaging goods and the use of non renewable resources at a level that is 
socially optimal. 

Additional problems of a more structural nature abound. In the first 
place, in a market economy — where the market is the economic tool, not 
just one among others — all the incentives of producers are toward 
growth and the wasteful use of resources. It is in the interest of producers 
to have a high-throughput economy characterized by high consumption 

The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus Economics Equals Politics 


through product proliferation and promotion, rapid obsolescence, and the 
like. It is just not economically advantageous for a producer to make an 
indestructible, easily repaired, inexpensively operated car. If consumers 
were perfectly rational — that is, if they acted solely according to their 
economic advantage — they could no doubt oblige producers to turn out 
nothing else, but we know very well that consumers are not completely 
rational (about cars least of all) and that producers do everything in their 
power to exploit this irrationality to boost sales (for example, by using ads 
that play upon consumers’ social and sexual insecurities). By comparison, 
the incentives to satisfy needs with minimum inputs of energy and 
material and the lowest real or long-term cost are quite weak, as is well 
exemplified by the entrepreneurial flight from passenger rail transporta- 
tion. In their pursuit of economic advantage, producers can be expected 
to promote higher consumption and in general to exploit every oppor- 
tunity to profit by not counting the ecological costs. And of course the 
growth orientation of the private sector is reinforced by the government, 
which uses its taxing, spending, and monetary powers to promote 
prosperity and full employment. 

Conversely, producers lack significant market incentives to respond 
alerdy and appropriately to many of the problems created by ecological 
scarcity. For example, it is simply not in the interest of oil companies or 
electric power companies to promote alternatives to the current fossil- 
fuel-based energy economy or to the centralized system of power 
production and distribution. In fact, for the purely “economic” person, 
the best of all possible worlds would be one in which people are almost 
literally dying for lack of what only he or she can supply. It is therefore 
entirely rational for entrepreneurs to let scarcity reach uncomfortable 
levels before innovating or bringing new resources to market. Thus the 
market price system is unlikely to favor far-sighted, much less public- 
spirited, investment decisions or to promote ecologically sound alterna- 
tives to current technologies, especially because some of the logical 
alternatives, such as alternatively fueled automobiles, could reduce the 
dependence of consumers on producers. At the very least, producers are 
likely to wait until demand builds up, and they are ensured of large profits 
before they invest heavily in such alternatives as fusion, which may 
require a great deal of time and money to develop to the point of 
commercial viability. Thus there are major structural obstacles to innova- 
tion and investment that will seriously impede response to the pressures 
of ecological scarcity (particularly in regulated monopoly industries, 
where real market competition does not exist). At best, market solutions 
will lag well behind the rapidly developing real-world problems of 
ecological scarcity. 



In short, an unregulated market economy inevitably fosters ac- 
celerated ecological degradation and resource depletion through ever- 
higher levels of production and consumption. Indeed, given the cor- 
nucopian assumptions on which a market system of economics is based, 
it could hardly be otherwise; both philosophically and practically, a 
market economy is incompatible with ecology.* 

The New Economics Is Mostly Politics 

If the market in its current form has so many serious environmental 
liabilities, which is not disputed by the vast majority of economists, why do we 
rely so heavily on it to save us from the consequences of ecological 
scarcity? The answer seems to be that although they tend to talk as if it 
were already an accomplished fact, those who put forward this solution 
are really talking about a market that does not yet exist — a market whose 
price mechanism has been thoroughly overhauled to eliminate at least 
some of the liabilities we have noted. In short, those who argue for the 
market as an economic solution to ecological scarcity are actually urging 
a political solution, for all of these reforms will require explicit and 
deliberate social decisions, as a brief review of the proposed changes will 

A number of economic devices have been proposed to mitigate or 
eliminate the degradation of common-pool resources and to promote the 
provision of public goods, such as clean air, or the careful husbandry of 
nonrenewable resources. These devices are principally administrative fiat, 
the creation of property rights in common-pool resources, effluent or 
pollution taxes, the auctioning of pollution rights, severance taxes on the 
use of resources, and the creation of “public markets.” Although their 
technical merits are debated by economists, there is general agreement on 
the main outlines of a market solution. For example, governments can 
simply forbid emissions above a certain level, which is the current U.S. 
policy with respect to automobiles, but economists tend to believe that 
direct administrative controls are cumbersome and inefficient (in the 

* As the discussion of a “thermodynamic” economy (in Chapter 2) indicated, 
ecological economics is grounded on real physical flows rather than on money. 
An ecological theory of economics would therefore resemble the premodern 
“physiocratic” or nature-based economic theories that, subsequent to the 
opening up of the Great Frontier, were eclipsed by the capital- and labor-based 
economic theories inspired by Adam Smith. Other aspects of an ecological 
economics will be discussed in Chapter 8 in connection with stewardship and 
“right livelihood.” 

The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus Economics Equals Politics 


Determining the Optimal Level of Pollution 

This curve 
is the sum 
of the two 

As pollution 
the social 
costs of 
rise rapidly. 

Nature can handle low 
levels of pollution. If we 
remove these pollutants, 
the costs of cleaning 
up are higher than their 
social costs. 

If we allow more pollution 
than the optimal level, 
the social costs of pollution 
is higher than the cost 
of cleaning it up. 

Economists calculate the estimated optimal level of pollution by plot- 
ting a curve reflecting the estimated social costs of pollution against a 
curve reflecting the social costs of cleaning it up. The sum of the two 
curves is the total social cost. The lowest point on this third curve is the 
optimal level of pollution. Source: Miller 1990, p. 581. 



economic sense) in that they are not likely to provide the necessary 
amount of control at the least cost. Alternatively, governments can award 
environmental property rights to persons and corporations, thus creating 
a framework for bargaining, negotiation, exchange, and, if all else fails, 
litigation (none of which can take place effectively over property that 
nobody owns). According to this view, once the commons is made into 
private property, market forces and the legal system would work to 
preserve rather than degrade it (see Box 24). However, economists fear 
that giving away property 7 rights in the commons to producers would be 
a tremendous windfall for them and that the dispersed citizens would not 
be able to organize effectively to buy amenity. And they fear that if the 
public at large had individual “amenity rights” (so that a producer would 
have to buy pollution rights from each person affected by its effluent), the 
result would be economic paralysis. While recognizing that both these 
devices may be effective and even necessary in some cases, environmental 
economists generally favor restructuring the system of market prices with 
various taxes that would oblige producers to “internalize” (that is, in- 
corporate into prices) the environmental costs of production. 

In principle, this is a simple and just solution. Government agencies 
could calculate the public damage caused by the wastes of a producer and 


Marketing Pollution Rights 

One way to control pollution is to sell rights that allow pollution up to 
the estimated optimum level and then to allow the polluters to trade 
these rights. The 1990 Clean Air Act experiments with a market ap- 
proach, setting a cap on sulfur dioxide emissions in the year 2000. 
Thereafter, if a utility wants to increase its emissions, it must pay 
another utility to reduce its emissions by an equivalent amount. Con- 
gress hopes that this market mechanism will achieve the desired level of 
sulfur dioxide reduction at least cost. To take a simple example, if it 
costs utility A $10 million to achieve a given level of pollution control, 
but costs utility B $5 million to do the same, A may be able to 
negotiate an agreement with B to pay it $7.5 million dollars if B agrees 
to spend $5 million of these dollars to offset As excess pollution. Both 
utilities “make” $2.5 million on the transaction and, assuming good 
faith by both parties, achieve the desired pollution control. 

The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus Economics Equals Politics 


then charge that individual or company the appropriate amount as an 
effluent or pollution tax. Similarly, the government could levy severance 
taxes designed to promote more rational use of resources, especially 
virgin nonrenewable resources.* The producer would internalize these 
new costs of doing business, which would be reflected in the price it 
charged for its products, so the consumer would pay the real cost of the 
product — that is, not only the costs of production but also the associated 
ecological and social costs. Those who ultimately benefited from the use 
or consumption would justly pay what they should and would thus be 
more likely to make responsible market decisions, such as reducing 
consumption if the price were too high. Moreover, if the level of effluent 
or severance tax were carefully set, the producer would have an incentive 
to make its operations more efficient in an ecological and social sense — 
that is, cleaner and thriftier. If it did so, it could pay less tax, lower its 
prices, and win customers away from less efficient competitors. The 
theoretical outcome of the well-administered internalization of environ- 
mental costs is thus a transformed market that responds readily to the 
pressures of ecological scarcity. 

Unfortunately, this conceptually simple and reasonably equitable ap- 
proach is far from easy to implement. Some externalities can be assigned a 
price with relative ease — for example, extra laundry bills or house painting 
attributable to air pollution from a nearby factory. However, most cannot be 
readily quantified. Consider the health effects of air pollution. It is almost 
impossible to know who suffers, to what degree, and from what amount of 
which agents. Besides, what is the economic cost of life? Of a reduced life 
span? Of the risk of contracting emphysema? Of being forced by smog to 
stay inside? What criteria can be used to establish severance taxes on the use 
of nonrenewable resources — or even on many renewable ones, for that 
matter, biologists often being uncertain what level of exploitation will 
provide a sustained yield? How do we put a price on the externalities 
involved in the unlikely but possible disaster, such as a serious nuclear 
accident? How do we decide whether irreversible development that fore- 
closes future options, such as building houses on prime farmland, should be 
undertaken at all, much less what price should be assigned to it? 

More generally, what about such social costs of industrial growth as 
increased commuting time and mental stress, to say nothing of the further 

* Alternatively, the government could auction off limited pollution or 
exploitation rights, in effect letting the market establish the tax. This would save 
much of the cost of information gathering and tax calculation but, among other 
drawbacks, would give an advantage to those with the greatest market power. 



Technology Assessment 

Just as laissez faire in economics generates environmental costs, so too 
“laissez innover,” or the unrestrained freedom to innovate technologi- 
cally, generates social costs. In both cases these costs have reached unac- 
ceptable levels, and remedies are being sought. If internalization is the 
economists’ answer to environmental costs, “technology assessment” is 
the technologists’ cure for the social costs of laissez innover. The aim 
of both is the same — to make it no longer possible for individuals and 
groups to make micro-decisions that produce a macro-decision inimi- 
cal to the common interest. As might be expected, therefore, technol- 
ogy assessment encounters the same kinds of problems as internaliza- 
tion, but in a more acute form, because the issues involved are much 
broader and even harder to analyze (especially in terms of quantifiable 
costs and benefits) than those involved in internalization. Thus 
decisions about the introduction of new technology are inevitably 
more political (or “trans-scientific,” to use the technologists’ term) 
than those confronted by environmental economists. 

The heart of the difficulty is something already familiar to us from 
previous discussion. As Allen Kneese, a leading environmental 
economist and expert on cost-benefit analysis, says, 

erosion of organic community life? How do we decide whether deple- 
tion of resources in the present should proceed if it impoverishes future 
generations, and to what extent should the cost of future depletion be 
discounted? We have no way of knowing at present. Indeed, even with 
perfect information, the economists could not answer most of these 
questions, for they involve political, social, and ethical issues, not the issue 
of efficient resource allocation that neoclassical, marginalist economics 
was designed to handle. They are “trans-economic” questions.* 

* To take but one example of the difficulty of such assessments, a 1984 EPA 
cost-benefit analysis of a proposed revision of the Clean Air Act determined that 
the net benefits over the net costs ranged from —$1.4 billion to +$110 billion, 
depending on what values were assigned to human life, human health, and a 
cleaner environment (Miller 1990, p. 583). 

The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus Economics Equals Politics 


It is my belief that benefit-cost analysis cannot answer the most impor- 
tant policy questions associated with the desirability of developing a 
large-scale, fission-based economy. To expect it to do so is to ask it to 
bear a burden it cannot sustain. This is so because these questions are of 
a deep ethical character. Benefit-cost analyses certainly cannot solve 
such questions and may well obscure them [Kneese 1973, p. 1]. 

Unfortunately, almost all discussion of technology assessment com- 
pletely overlooks this point. Just like the majority of economists, who 
evince an almost religious faith in the tools of neoclassical economics 
and the technical efficacy of the market mechanism, technologists 
tend to look upon technology assessment as an exercise in pure cost- 
benefit analysis that will avoid rather than require political and ethical 
decisions. But if the criteria and methods of analysis are narrowly tech- 
nical and economic, then there is little doubt that the Faustian bargain, 
for example, will be found cost-effective. In its current form, therefore, 
technology assessment may indeed obscure rather than illuminate the 
most important questions connected with continued technological in- 

Thus “the new economics is mostly politics” (Wildavsky 1967). 
Even though economic analysis and the market itself, which is a highly 
effective mechanism for efficiently and automatically allocating resour- 
ces and for sending signals to economic decision makers, both have a 
definite contribution to make, society will have to use noneconomic 
criteria to decide which trade-offs are to be made between production 
and other elements of the quality of life. (The assessment of technology 
poses a similar problem; see Box 25.) In effect, because economics 
itself cannot produce what economists call a “social welfare function,” 
a means of assigning monetary values to non-market goods and bads, 
such a function will have to be invented politically (see Box 26). 
Moreover, even an overhauled price system will not eliminate all the 
liabilities we have discussed, so that in any event, an expansion of 
direct government intervention in the economic process will be 




Assigning Prices to Environmental Goods 

Economists have given thought to how to assign prices to “externalities,” 
or ecological goods and services having no market value. For example, the 
value of beautiful scenery or a national park or spotted owls can be es- 
timated by asking people the maximum they would be willing to pay to 
see them, even if they don’t actually have to pay it. Likewise, in doing cost- 
benefit analyses, economists have used the technique in determining how 
much people might be willing to pay to avoid loss of income and medical 
costs associated with illness or some medical symptoms. 

But the validity of the technique varies with the subject matter. 

Among other things, when assessing the value of such “goods” as spotted 
owls or a species of frog, the people give answers that depend on how well 
informed they are. The technique also fails to incorporate long-term goals 
because future generations can’t bid in the hypothetical market. 

Economists have also given thought to how to incorporate uncer- 
tainty into the market system. One possibility is to require companies 
to post a bond equal to the current best estimate of the greatest poten- 
tial environmental harm their product or service could cause. The 
bond would pay interest and would be returned if the company could 
show that its product would not harm the environment. On the other 
hand, if the product did cause harm, the bond money would be used 
to repair the damage and to compensate its victims. The technique 
would require polluters to assume the risks that society now assumes 
and would give them an incentive to minimize environmental harms. 

But this proposal faces substantial political obstacles. Polluters have 
been powerful enough to obtain legal caps on their environmental 
liabilities (such as the financial limits to which nuclear power producers 
are subject in nuclear accidents) and to force society to assume environ- 
mental and health risks (for instance, pesticides of dubious safety are per- 
mitted in the marketplace until the government proves they are harmful). 

needed (for example, to subsidize vital but risky research and develop- 
ment on alternative technologies). Thus, as even leading exponents of 
the market strategy acknowledge, our political system will be handed 
the uncomfortable and unwanted burden of making decisions hitherto 
left to the invisible hand. This means that open collective decision 

The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus Economics Equals Politics 


making on a scale never before attempted by our political institutions — as 
well as much more efficient, innovative, and timely government action in 
general — will be essential to the success of the market strategy as a means 
of responding to ecological scarcity. 

The Political Costs of Internalization 

Because it leans so heavily on politics, the market strategy of coping with 
ecological scarcity must also be evaluated in political terms. This will raise 
further questions about how well it can be expected to succeed in the real 
world of American politics, as opposed to the abstract world of economic 

In the first place, letting the market adjust supply and demand can 
have such painful social and political consequences that governments 
have usually gone to considerable lengths to prevent the free play of 
market forces. Recession, for example, makes exceedingly bad politics. So 
will internalization, for to the extent that a market strategy is effective 
environmentally, it is bound to cause social and economic distress. The 
internalization of environmental costs usually means that people have to 
pay for what they used to get free. Pollution control, for instance, often 
does not make a production process more efficient, just more expensive; 
similarly, severance and pollution taxes increase costs without increasing 
the quality of goods. The result is a general rise in prices, and the standard 
of living is eroded by inflation — exactly what economic theory predicts 
must happen in the face of absolute scarcity.* Furthermore, as is well 
known, a rise in prices affects income groups selectively. The poor, those 
with fixed incomes, and in fact all who are not in a position to pass on the 
increased costs suffer disproportionately. In addition, if a policy of 
internalization is faithfully implemented, the price of owning certain 
highly desired but ecologically damaging goods, such as the automobile, 
seems likely to rise the fastest and highest. This would cause serious 
disruption of the economy, which depends heavily on mass ownership of 
the automobile. It would also intensify the maldistributive tendency 
noted above, with potentially explosive political results if large numbers 
of people are priced out of car ownership. In any case, ecological scarcity 
will have painful and disruptive effects on the economy, producing a 

* In the United States, real wages have declined since 1972, and productivity 
has been stagnant for about a decade. Both trends are partially attributable to the 
effects of rising real resource costs, especially energy resources, which are rising 
as a result of their decreasing energy output/input ratios and the costs of 
internalizing some of their environmental harms. 



lower standard of living as we usually conceive of it. Thus the question is 
whether it is desirable for the inevitable economic consequences of 
ecological scarcity to be distributed in a relatively laissez-faire fashion by 
the invisible hand or by a planned economic contraction designed to 
mitigate these side effects. This will be a prime political issue confronting 
the American polity as a consequence of ecological scarcity, so we shall 
return to it in the next chapter. 

Making the Invisible Hand Visible 

An additional political problem is the very openness and explicitness of 
the internalization process, for it will make public what has hitherto been 
hidden. As its name implies, one of the characteristic features of the 
invisible hand is that the workings of the economic process are largely 
concealed, and responsibility for the economic macro-decision that 
results from the summation and integration of many small economic 
micro-decisions is diffused. The outcome is due to “the market,” not to 
any particular person or act. This gready favors the entrepreneurs, who 
can pursue their own private profit while ignoring the public costs their 
actions impose on others. The result is “development.” Capitalism is thus 
an economic system founded on hidden social costs, in which develop- 
ment (at least as we have experienced it) would not have occurred if all 
the costs had been counted in advance. For example, the gentry and the 
bourgeois clearly did very well by the Industrial Revolution, while the 
urban and rural masses suffered gready from the disruptive side effects of 
development; one sees essentially the same process being repeated today 
in the countries of the Third World. We also saw in Chapter 3 that the 
petrochemical industry would not exist in its present form* if the public 
costs of its pollution had to be paid for by the industry. The extreme 
resistance of the atomic energy establishment to a full and frank debate 
on the merits of nuclear power suggests just how threatening full dis- 
closure of costs and benefits is to those who have hitherto been able to 
hide behind the invisible hand of dispersed, laissez-faire decision making. 
In brief, honesty and “progress” may not be compatible. 

That openness and explicitness are not welcomed by most policy 
makers is evident from the brief history of the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The Acts purpose was, in part, to “promote 

* Society would undoubtedly want a small petrochemical industry to produce 
a few valuable products for which there are no substitutes (drugs, artificial 
hearts, and the like) even if, as is true today, the industry generated nearly as 
many pounds of hazardous wastes as pounds of product produced. 

The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus Economics Equals Politics 


efforts that will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and 
biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man.” Section 102 of 
that Act requires all federal agencies to prepare an environmental-impact 
statement (EIS) on any of their activities that have a significant effect on 
the quality of the human environment. The statement must include the 
purpose and need for the proposed action, its probable environmental 
impact, and the impact of possible alternatives. In other words, the Act 
requires a full public accounting of the costs and benefits of any Federal 
action that might have envifonmental consequences that decision makers 
and the interested public should be made aware of. (Thirty-six states have 
also adopted legislation requiring similar statements for governmental — 
and even some private — projects likely to have a significant environmen- 
tal impact.) The Act has been interpreted to be only procedural; that is, it 
established no criteria of acceptability for a proposed action to go 
forward. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that the 
National Environmental Policy Act requires agencies only to “consider” 
the environmental impacts of its projects. Under the decision, an agency 
can report that a proposed activity will cause the sky to fall by 2000 and 
still proceed with the project once it has satisfied the procedural require- 
ments of the Act. Nevertheless, lower courts, in response to environmen- 
talist suits, have forced government agencies to live up rather strictly to 
the requirement that a full-blown environmental-impact statement be 

As a result, a number of projects have been abandoned when it appeared 
that an honest public accounting would be too damaging; others have been 
temporarily shelved for redesign to remove some of the more glaring 
ecological liabilities; and still others have been held up by the extensive 
paperwork and inter-agency consultation needed to complete an EIS. Fur- 
thermore, the statements have made splendid ammunition for environmen- 
tal defenders during the regulatory proceedings that are often needed before 
a project can be carried out. The nuclear power industry, already saddled 
with relatively heavy procedural and legal requirements involved in site 
location and reactor licensing, was especially hard hit by the limited public 
accountability generated by EIS statements, but the Army Corps of En- 
gineers and other development-oriented agencies have also found living up 
to their obligations under Section 102 to be a troublesome burden. 

As the full consequences of Section 102 became apparent, an 
administrative and legislative backlash set in. In part, this was due to the 
admittedly expensive and time-consuming process of preparing a draft 
report, circulating it to interested agencies for criticism, and so forth. 
However, most of the distress was due precisely to the openness and 
explicitness of the process, which gives potential opponents (usually a 



public-interest or environmental action group, but occasionally a rival 
agency) an opportunity to prevent a project from being carried out. For 
the sponsoring agency and its legislative and industrial constituency, 
especially pork-barreling members of Congress, such an outcome is 
horrible to contemplate, for projects bring prestige, profits, political favor, 
and many other benefits. Predictably, there was an attempt to weaken 
NEPA legislatively. When this failed, essentially the same result was 
achieved by an administrative modus vivendi, supported by the United 
States Supreme Court.* 

Instead of treating the process of preparing an EIS as an opportunity to 
improve the quality of their decision making, sponsoring agencies have 
turned it into pro forma, paperwork compliance with the requirements of 
Section 102 (Krieth 1973). The Supreme Court has sanctioned this practice, 
calling the NEPA’s requirements “essentially procedural.” The court has 
gone so far as to approve an agency’s refusal to consider new and better 
information once it has completed its own EIS. For example, after the Army 
Corp. of Engineers issued an EIS concerning a proposed dam on a tributary 
of the Rouge River in Oregon, the Oregon Department of Fish and 
Wildlife and the federal governments own Soil Conservation Service found 
evidence that the environmental impact would be worse than the Army’s 
EIS had predicted. The Army refused to consider the new information or 
supplement its own EIS, and the Supreme Court sanctioned that refusal. 
“When specialists express conflicting views,” the court said, “an agency 
must have discretion to rely on the reasonable opinions of its own qualified 
experts” to support its preferred option. This is so “even if, as an original 
matter, a court might find contrary views more persuasive” (Marsh u Oregon 
Natural Resources Council 109 S.Ct. 1851, 1861 (1989). 

Fully aware of this minimal reading of NEPA, reviewing agencies 
often give EISs a perfunctory review, thus saving themselves the money 
and the staff time that would have had to go into a genuine study, and at 
the same time chalking up a political favor that can be collected when 
their own pet projects are passed around for criticism. Because only a few 
especially controversial projects are important enough to attract the 
attention of overworked and underfinanced public-interest groups, the 
vast majority of impact statements glide through with only the most 

* The Supreme Court has consistently supported the executive branch’s views 
of NEPA. An indication of the court’s approach can be seen in the statistics: 
From 1975 to 1991, the court reviewed 11 NEPA cases, and in all 11, it 
narrowed the scope of the act. In the same time period, environmental groups 
asked the Supreme Court to review cases they had lost in lower courts 25 times; 
the Supreme Court refused to consider their appeals in all 25 cases. 

The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus Economics Equals Politics 


cursory review. In fact, even some highly controversial projects receive 
pitifully inadequate reviews. Agencies also seek to avoid the larger sub- 
stantive issues their projects raise by using, as much as possible, narrow 
and exclusive definitions of project and environmental impact. For example, 
when the Department of the Interior engaged in a regional study of 
leases, mining rights, rights of way, and the distribution of scarce water 
resources in connection with its plans to approve coal strip mining in the 
Northern Great Plains, the Court of Appeals ruled that the Interior 
Department should decide whether to prepare an EIS for the region 
before any individual strip-mining projects started. But the Supreme 
Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, accepting the 
Interior Departments claim that it had no “program” or “proposal” for 
the region on which to prepare an EIS at that time. 

Finally, in the case of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, a case that arose before 
the Supreme Court had established that the NEPA is essentially procedural, 
NEPA was simply set aside. When the Department of the Interior, despite 
intense White House pressure, could not produce an EIS favorable to the 
pipeline yet plausible enough to stand up in court, the administration simply 
persuaded Congress to pass legislation exempting the pipeline project from 
full compliance with NEPA requirements (Carter 1973; Odell 1973). In 
Chapter 2, we discussed the environmental havoc spawned by that decision. 

Thus, although NEPA has caused some ill-conceived projects to be 
aborted, it has not resulted in full, open, and explicit environmental account- 
ancy, for agencies have fulfilled only the letter of the law (as minimally 
interpreted by the Supreme Court) while evading the spirit, and in one 
important instance even the letter of the law was deliberately set aside. The 
reason is simple: No project sponsor or developer wants to let it be known 
that its gain may be the community’s loss. Full disclosure of the kind of 
information needed to internalize the costs of production and make intel- 
ligent decisions on future development is deeply threatening to the industrial 
order and to a political and economic system that has thrived on the 
invisibility of the invisible hand. One must therefore question whether the 
openness and explicitness needed to make internalization work can be 
achieved with our current institutions. At the very least, there will have to be 
some painful readjustments in our economic mode of life, which is based on 
hidden costs, and in the administrative and political process allied with it. 

Into the Political Cockpit 

Internalization would be resisted by important economic interests 
precisely to the degree that it was effective. Two leading proponents of 
this approach explain why: 



A system of pollution charges. . .would establish the principle that the 
environment is owned by the people as a whole and that the polluters 
must pay for the privilege of using part of the environment for waste 
disposal. Such massive transfers of “property rights” and the wealth they 
represent seldom occur without political upheaval (Freeman and 
Haveman 1972). 

Implicit in any effective program of internalization or environmental 
management, therefore, is a deliberate reversal of a 200-year-old bias in 
favor of development and growth. Toward this end, the government will 
be required to take jealously guarded privileges away from, and impose 
heavy new obligations on, some of the most important and powerful actors in 
the political system. For example, companies extracting virgin materials 
now benefit from a substantial tax break in the form of a depletion 
allowance; in the new scheme of things, not only will this depletion 
allowance be taken away but additional pollution and severance taxes will 
be imposed. It is apparent that producers have little incentive to 
cooperate in a program of internalization, no matter how well and fairly 
administered, that threatens drastically to curtail both profits and power. 

The battle over stricter emission and efficiency (milage) standards for 
automobiles offers a foretaste of the kind of long political struggle that 
would become pervasive as Washington tried to force producers to 
internalize ecological and social costs. Vital issues are at stake. Oil com- 
panies and the automobile industry see a threat in higher-priced gasoline, 
alternative fuels, and smaller automobiles. They believe that if the current 
trend is allowed to proceed to its logical conclusion, automobiles will 
eventually be luxury items again, with devastating effects on profits. 
Labor, too, sees the threat implicit in controls on pollution, and even 
consumers do not desire goods that are more expensive but no better in 
terms of utility. In short, internalization will inhibit if not prevent con- 
tinued growth, and nobody really wants material growth to end. At the 
very least, everybody wants somebody else to bear the costs of restructur- 
ing the economy. 

With important interests so clearly opposed, it seems doubtful that a 
program of internalization can be fully, fairly, and efficiently administered. 
At best, there will be considerable lag as time-consuming political battles 
are fought out in the legislature and the courts, and economists agree that 
substantial delay in internalizing costs will be fatal to the market strategy. 
At worst, internalization will be only partially (as well as belatedly) 
applied, and primary reliance on politically more feasible but economi- 
cally less efficient measures, such as direct regulation, will shackle the 

The American Political Economy I: Ecology Plus Economics Equals Politics 235 

market with a jumble of controls that will increase the irrationality of the 
price mechanism without removing any of its environmental liabilities. 

The market strategy thus seems likely to founder on politics, for the 
attempt to reform the price mechanism will transfer from the invisible 
hand to the highly visible political realm decisions on matters of critical 
importance to major interests in the society. If the invisible hand must be 
made visible and obedient to some explicit conception of the common 
interest, then this will inevitably bring about a basic change in the 
character of American government, which has relied heavily on the 
market mechanism. Laissez-faire economics has been, in effect, a sur- 
rogate for politics. With its demise, government seems likely to turn into 
a political cockpit for competing economic interests fighting desperately 
for survival in an age of ecological scarcity. 

Farewell to “Economic Man” 

The most fundamental concepts the system has habitually used to frame 
its decisions are being called into question. A laissez-faire market system 
of economics reflects the values of “economic man,” and these values 
themselves, not just laissez-faire institutions, have become pernicious. For 
example, to a purely economic person there is no higher value than the 
individual wants of those living today; in pursuit of these wants it is 
economically optimal to keep growing until one further increment of 
growth will precipitate ecological catastrophe (Pearce 1973). The ul- 
timate consequence of such a policy of ecological brinkmanship would, 
of course, be ruin. But who cares about ultimate consequences? In fact, 
any purely economic person must ignore the interests of posterity, for it 
has no agent he or she can bargain with in a market place and nothing of 
economic value to offer the person of today. It is an economic fact that 
posterity never has been, and never will be, able to do anything for us. 
Posterity is, therefore, damned if decisions are made “economically.” 

Thus the current paradigm of political economy, which is based on 
the primacy of economics, must give way to one based primarily on 
politics. The market will remain an essential tool for performing vital 
economic tasks, but it will cease to be the dominant mode of allocating 
social values. Similarly, economics, instead of being the master science it 
has been since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, will be 
reduced to the more modest but still important role of handmaiden to 
ecological politics, supporting the material goals of the polity and manag- 
ing the human ecological household in a way that respects the laws of 
nature and the long-term interests of humanity. 


The American Political 
Economy II: 

The Non-politics of 
Laissez Faire 

The preceding chapter showed that the invisible hand is no longer to be 
relied on for social decisions; we shall be obliged to make explicit political 
choices in order to meet the challenges of ecological scarcity. This is an 
embarrassing conclusion, for we Americans have never had a genuine 
politics — that is, something apart from economics that gives direction to 
our community life. Instead, American politics has been but a reflection 
of its laissez-faire economic system. 

The Political Functions of Economic Growth 

From our earliest colonial beginnings, rising expectations have been a 
fundamental part of the American credo, each generation expecting to 
become richer than the previous one. Thanks to this expectation of 
growth, the class conflict and social discontent typical of early 
nineteenth-century Europe were all but absent in America; politics was 
accordingly undemanding, pragmatic, and laissez-faire. Thus, said Alexis 
de Tocqueville in his classic study of American civilization Democracy in 
America , we were indeed a “happy republic.” 

Growth is still central to American politics. In fact, it matters more 
than ever, for the older social restraints (the Protestant ethic, deference, 
isolation) have all been swept away. Growth is the secular religion of 




American society, providing a social goal, a basis for political solidarity, 
and a source of individual motivation. The pursuit of happiness has come 
to be defined almost exclusively in material terms, and the entire 
society — individuals, enterprises, the government itself — has an enor- 
mous vested interest in the continuation of growth. 

The Economic Basis of Pragmatic Politics 

Growth continues to be essential to the characteristic pragmatic, laissez-faire 
style of American politics, which has always revolved around the question of 
fair access to the opportunity to get on financially Indeed, American political 
history is but the record of a more or less amicable squabble over the division 
of the spoils of a growing economy. Even social problems have been handled 
by substituting economic growth for political principle, transforming non- 
economic issues into ones that could be solved by economic bargaining. For 
example, when labor pressed its class demands, the response was to legitimize 
its status as a bargaining unit in the division of the spoils. Once labor had to 
be bargained with in good businesslike fashion, compromise, in terms of 
wages and other costable benefits, became possible. In return for labors 
abandonment of uncompromising demands for socialism, others at the 
economic trough “squeezed over” enough for labor to get its share. Similarly, 
new political demands by immigrants, farmers, and so on were bought off by 
the opportunity to share in the fruits of economic growth. The only conflict 
that we failed to solve in this manner was slavery and its aftermath, and it is 
typical that once the legitimacy of black demands was recognized in the 
1960s, the reflex response was to promote economic opportunity via job 
training, education, “black capitalism,” and fair hiring practices — that is, the 
wherewithal to share the affluence of the envied whites. If blacks prosper 
economically, says our intuitive understanding of politics, racial problems will 

As a political mode, economic reductionism has many virtues. Above 
all, it is a superb means of channeling and controlling social conflict. 
Economic bargaining is a matter of a little more or a little less. Nobody 
loses on issues of principle, and even failure to get what you want today 
is tolerable, for the bargaining session is continuous, and the outcome of 
the next round may be more favorable. Besides, everybody’s share is 
growing, so that even an unfair share is a more-than-acceptable bird in 
the hand. Most people understand that in a growth economy, individuals 
or groups have more to gain from increases in the size of the enterprise 
as a whole than from any feasible change in distribution. Furthermore, 
people have gotten what was of primary interest to them — access to 
income and wealth — and with their chief aim satisfied, they were able to 

The American Political Economy II: The Non-politics of Laissez Faire 


repress desires for community, social respect, political power, and other 
values that are not so easily divisible as money. 

This characteristic style of conflict resolution presupposes agreement on 
the primacy of economics and a general willingness to be pragmatic and to 
accept the bargaining approach to political and social as well as economic 
issues. Unfortunately, the arrival of ecological scarcity places issues on the 
political agenda that are not easily compromisable or commensurable, least 
of all in terms of money. Trade-offs are possible, of course, but environmental 
imperatives are basically matters of principle that cannot be bargained away 
in an economic fashion. Environmental management is therefore a role for 
which our political institutions are miscast, because it involves deciding issues 
of principle in favor of one side or another rather than merely allocating 
shares in the spoils. Worse, a cessation or even a slowing of growth will bring 
opposing interests into increasingly stark conflict. Economic growth has 
made it possible to satisfy the demands of new claimants to the spoils 
without taking anything away from others. Without significant growth, 
however, w r e are left with a zero-sum game, in which there will be winners 
and losers instead of big winners and little winners. Especially in recent years, 
growth has become an all-purpose “political solvent” (Bell 1974, p. 43), 
satisfying rapidly rising expectations while allowing very large expenditures 
for social welfare and defense. Without the political solvent of growth to 
provide quasi-automatic solutions to many of our domestic social problems, 
our political institutions will be called on to make hard choices about how 
best to use relatively scarce resources to meet a plethora of demands. More 
important, long-suppressed social issues can now be expected to surface — 
especially the issue of equality. 

Ecological Scarcity versus Economic Justice 

To state the problem succinctly, growth and economic opportunity have 
been substitutes for equality of income and wealth. We have justified large 
differences in income and wealth on the grounds that they promote 
growth and that all members of society would receive future advantage 
from current inequality as the benefits of development “trickled down” 
to the poor. (On a more personal level, economic growth also ratifies the 
ethics of individual self-seeking: You can get on without concern for the 
fate of others, for they are presumably getting on too, even if not so well 
as you.) But if growth in production is no longer of overriding impor- 
tance, the rationale for differential rewards gets thinner, and with a 
cessation of growth it virtually disappears. In general, anything that 
diminishes growth and opportunity abridges the customary substitutes 
for equality Because peoples demands for economic betterment are not 



likely to disappear, once the pie stops growing fast enough to accommo- 
date their needs, they will begin making demands for redistribution. 

Even more serious than the frustration of rising expectations is the 
prospect of actual deprivation as substantial numbers of people get worse 
off in terms of real income as a result of scarcity-induced inflation and the 
internalization of environmental costs. Indeed, the eventual consequence 
of ecological scarcity is a lower standard of living, as we currently define 
it, for almost all members of society. One does not need a gloomy view 
of human nature to realize that this will create enormous political and 
social tension. It is, in fact, the classic prescription for revolution. At the 
very least, we can expect that our politics will come to be dominated by 
resentment and envy — or “emulation,” to use the old word — -just as it 
has many times in the past in democratic polities. 

To make the revolutionary potential of the politics of emulation 
more concrete, let us imagine that the current trend toward making 
automobile ownership and operation more expensive continues to the 
point where the car becomes once again a luxury item, available only to 
“the carriage trade.” How will the average person, once an economic 
aristocrat with his or her own private carriage but now demoted to a 
scooter or a bicycle, react to this deprivation, especially in view of the fact 
that the remaining aristocrats will presumably continue to enjoy their 
private carriages? 

Of course, such an extreme situation is probably a long way off 
(although many would be priced out of the market today if all the social 
costs attributable to the automobile were internalized). Yet it is toward 
such a situation that the rising costs due to ecological scarcity are pushing 
us. Already, in striking contrast to the not-too-distant past, the price of a 
detached house in the most populous areas of the country is more than 
the average family can afford to pay. Also, as the cost of food and other 
basic necessities continues to increase, less disposable income will be left 
for the purchase of automobiles and other highly desired goods. In sum, 
deprivation is inevitable, even in the short term. 

This point has not been lost on advocates for the disadvantaged, who 
have already protested vehemently against the regressive impact of even 
modest increases in the cost of energy (through increased gasoline taxes, 
for example) and goods.* More generally, they fear that lessened growth 

* For every $1 .00 increase in the price of oil, about 78,000 jobs are lost in the 
United States. Yet if the gasoline tax were adjusted to pay the cost of all public 
subsidies to the automobile, Americans would have to pay $4.50 per gallon of 
gas (Schaeffer 1990, p. 15). 

The American Political Economy II: The Non-politics ofLaissez Faire 


will tend to restrict social mobility and freeze the status quo, or even turn 
the clock back in some areas, such as minority rights. 

The political stage is set, therefore, for a showdown between the 
claims of ecological scarcity on the one hand and socioeconomic justice 
on the other. If the impact of scarcity is distributed in a laissez-faire 
fashion, the result will be to intensify existing inequalities. Large-scale 
redistribution, however, is almost totally foreign to our political ma- 
chinery, which was designed for a growth economy and which has used 
economic surplus as the coin of social and political payoff. Thus the 
political measures necessary to redistributing income and wealth such 
that scarce commodities are to a large degree equally shared will require 
much greater social cooperation and solidarity than the system has 
exhibited in the past. 

They will also require greater social control. Under conditions of 
scarcity, there is a trade-off between freedom and equality, with perfect 
equality necessitating almost total social control (as was attempted in 
Maoist China). However, even partial redistribution will involve whole- 
sale government intervention in the economy and major transfers of 
property rights, as well as other infringements of liberty in general, that 
will be resisted bitterly by important and powerful interests. 

Thus either horn of the dilemma — laissez faire or redistribution — 
would toss us into serious difficulties that would strain our meager 
political and moral resources to or beyond capacity. American society is 
founded on competition rather than cooperation, and scarcity is likely to 
aggravate rather than ameliorate the competitive struggle to gain eco- 
nomic benefits for oneself or one’s group. Similarly, our political ethic is 
based on a just division of the spoils, defined almost purely in terms of fair 
access to the increments of growth; once the spoils of abundance are 
gone, little is left to promote social cooperation and sharing. As Adam 
Smith pointed out, the “progressive state” is “cheerful” and “hearty”; by 
contrast, the stationary state is “hard,” the declining state “miserable” 
(Smith 1776, p. 81). How well will a set of political institutions complete- 
ly predicated on abundance and molded by over 200 years of continuous 
growth cope with the “hardness” of ecological scarcity? 

The Non-politics of Due Process 

This dilemma is only a specific instance of a more general problem. In 
many areas, the American government will be obliged to have genuine 
policies — that is, specific measures or programs designed to further some 
particular conception of the public interest. This will require radical 
changes, because in our laissez-faire political system, ends are subor- 



dinated to political means. In other words, we practice “process” politics 
as opposed to “systems” politics (Schick 1971). As the name implies, 
process politics emphasizes the adequacy and fairness of the rules govern- 
ing the process of politics. If the process is fair, then, as in a trial conducted 
according to due process, the outcome is assumed to be just — or at least 
the best that the system can achieve. By contrast, systems politics is 
concerned primarily with desired outcomes; means are subordinated to 
predetermined ends. 

The process model has many virtues. Keeping the question of ends out 
of politics greatly diminishes the intensity of social conflict. People debate 
the fairness of the rules, a matter about which they find it relatively easy to 
agree, and they do not confront each other with value demands, which may 
not be susceptible to compromise. However, by some standards, the process 
model hardly deserves the name of politics, for it evades the whole issue of 
the common interest simply by declaring that the “will of all” and the 
“general will” are identical. The common interest is thus, by definition, 
whatever the political system s invisible hand cranks out, for good or ill. 

Of course, we have found that pure laissez-faire politics, like pure 
laissez-faire economics, produces outcomes that we find intolerable, but 
our instinct has always been to curb the social costs of laissez faire by 
reforms designed to preserve its basic features: We check practices that 
prevent the efficient or fair operation of the market rather than convert- 
ing to a planned economy; we promote equal opportunity rather than 
redistributing wealth or income. Planning with certain ends in mind does 
take place in such a political system. Each separate atom or molecule in 
the body politic (individuals, corporations, government agencies, ad- 
visory commissions, and supreme courts) plans in order to maximize its 
own ends, and the invisible hand produces the aggregated result of action 
on these private plans. But the central government does not plan in any 
systematic way, even though its ad hoc actions — VA and FHA home 
loans, tax breaks for homeowners, and the like — do in a sense constitute 
a “plan” for certain outcomes — in this case, suburban sprawl. 

In reality, “the American political system” is almost a misnomer. 
What we really have is congeries of unintegrated and competitive subsys- 
tems pursuing conflicting ends — a non-system. And our overall policy of 
accepting the outcome of due process means that in most particulars we 
have non-policies. Now, however, just as in economics, the externalities 
produced by this laissez-faire system of non-politics have become unac- 
ceptable. Coping with the consequences of ecological scarcity will re- 
quire explicit, outcome-oriented political decisions taken in the name of 
some conception of an ecological, if not a political and social, common 
interest. What likelihood is there of this happening? 

The American Political Economy II: The Non-politics of Laissez Faire 


Who Dominates the Political Marketplace? 

Critics of die American political system almost never question the necessity 
(or superiority) of process politics. If bad outcomes are generated, it must be 
because powerful interests dominate the political marketplace and prevent 
the will of the majority from being frilly and fairly translated into outcomes. 
There has been, say the critics, a wholesale expropriation of the public 
domain by private interests (Lowi 1969; McConnell 1966). Nevertheless, 
although much of this criticism is incontrovertible, the general preferences of 
the American people are in fact quite well reflected in political output. 
People want jobs, economic opportunities, and a growing economy. Indeed, 
to the extent that the system has had a guiding policy goal at all, it has been 
precisely to satisfy the rising expectations of its citizens. Even if special 
interests have benefited disproportionately from the measures taken to 
promote this end, most of the benefit has been transmitted to the vast 
majority of the population. The problem, then, is not that our political 
institutions are unresponsive to our wills but that what we desire generates 
the tragedy of the commons. 

Naturally, to the extent that our government is largely a brokerage 
house for special interests, the situation is much worse, because such 
interests have an even bigger stake in continued economic growth. But 
within a process system of politics, government decisions that consistently 
favor producer over consumer interests are all but inevitable, for the 
political marketplace is subject to the public-goods problem (Box 19). 
For example, those who have a direct and substantial financial interest in 
legislation and regulation are strongly motivated to organize, lobby, make 
campaign contributions, advertise, litigate, and so forth in pursuit of their 
interests. By comparison, the great mass of the people, who will be 
indirectly affected and whose personal stake in the outcome is likely to 
be negligible, have very little incentive to organize in defense of their 
interests. After all, the “right” decision may be worth $10 million to 
General Motors but will cost each individual only a few pennies. Thus 
those who try to stand up to special interests on environmental issues find 
themselves up against superior political resources all across the board. 

The gross political inequality of profit and nonprofit interests is 
epitomized by the favorable tax treatment accorded the former. By law, 
tax-deductible donations cannot be used for lobbying or other attempts 
to influence legislation (for example, by advertising). Thus the nonprofit 
organizations that depend very heavily on donations are severely handi- 
capped; if they lobby, they undercut their financial support. Businesses, by 
contrast, can deduct any money spent for the same purpose from their 
taxable income and pass on the remaining expense in the form of higher 



prices. The public, both as consumers and as taxpayers, therefore sub- 
sidizes one side in environmental disputes. Moreover, the law is self- 
protecting, for public-interest groups cannot even lobby to have it 
changed without losing their tax-exempt status. 

Thus the outcome of the process of American politics faithfully reflects 
the will of the people and their desire for economic growth. However, just 
as in the economic marketplace, the public suffers from certain negative 
externalities as a result of the inordinate political power of producer interests; 
political power tends to be used to ratify and reinforce, rather than counter- 
mand, the decisions of the economic market. In sum, the American political 
system has all the drawbacks of laissez faire, wherein individual decisions add 
up to an ecologically destructive macro-decision, as well as a structural bias 
in favor of producers that tends to make this macro-decision even more 
destructive of the commons than it would otherwise be. 

Tlu Ecological Vices of Muddling Through 

The logic of the commons is enshrined in a system of process politics 
obedient to the demands of both consumer and producer for economic 
growth. The ecological vices of this system are further intensified by the 
decision-making style characteristic of all our institutions — disjointed 
incrementalism or, to use the more honest and descriptive colloquial 
term, “muddling through.” 

Incremental decision making largely ignores long-term goals; it 
focuses on the problem immediately at hand and tries to find the solution 
that is most congruent with the status quo. It is thus characterized by 
comparison and evaluation of marginal changes (increments) in current 
policies, not radical departures from them; by consideration of only a 
restricted number of policy alternatives (and of only a few of the 
important consequences for any given alternative); by the adjustment of 
ends to means and to what is “feasible” and “realistic”; by serial or 
piecemeal treatment of problems; and by a remedial orientation in which 
policies are designed to cure obvious immediate ills rather than to bring 
about some desired future state. Moreover, analysis of policy alternatives 
is not disinterested, for it is carried out largely by partisan actors who are 
trying to improve their bargaining position with other partisan actors. 

Muddling through is therefore a highly economic style of decision 
making that is well adapted to a pragmatic, laissez-faire system of politics. 
Moreover, it has considerable virtues. Like the market itself, disjointed 
incrementalism promotes short-term stability by minimizing serious conflict 
over ultimate ends, by giving everybody something of what they want, and 
by bringing bargained compromises among political actors, satisfying their 

The American Political Economy II: The Non-politics ofLaissez Faire 


needs reasonably well at minimumal intellectual and financial cost. At the 
same time, it promotes the consensus and legitimacy needed to support 
public policy. It is also basically democratic; like the economic market, it 
reflects the preferences of those who participate in the political market 
(assuming that all legitimate interests can participate equally, which is not 
always the case). Disjointed incrementalism is also conservative in a good 
sense: It does not slight traditional values, it encourages appreciation of 
the costs of change, and it prevents overly hasty action on complex issues. 
It may also avoid serious or irreversible mistakes, for an incremental 
measure that turns out to be mistaken can usually be corrected before 
major harm has been done. Under ideal circumstances, disjointed in- 
crementalism therefore produces a succession of policy measures that take 
the system step by step toward the policy outcome that best reflects the 
interests of the participants in the political market. 

Unfortunately, muddling through has some equally large vices. For 
example, it does not guarantee that all relevant values will be taken into 
account, and it is likely to overlook excellent policies not suggested by 
past experience. In addition, disjointed incrementalism is not well 
adapted to handling profound value conflicts, revolutions, crises, grand 
opportunities, and the like — in other words, any situation in which 
simple continuation of past policies is not an appropriate response. Most 
important, because decisions are made on the basis of immediate self-in- 
terest, muddling through is almost guaranteed to produce policies that 
will generate the tragedy of the commons. It is perfectly possible to 
come up with a series of decisions that all seem eminently reasonable on 
the basis of short-term calculation of costs and benefits and that satisfy 
current preferences but that yield unsatisfactory results in the long run, 
especially because the future is likely to be discounted in the calculation 
of costs and benefits. In fact, that is just how we have gotten ourselves 
into an ecological predicament. Thus the short-term adjustment and 
stability achieved by muddling through is likely to be achieved at the 
expense of long-term stability and welfare. 

A perfect illustration of the potential dangers of muddling through is 
our approach to global warming. As a result of millions of separate 
decisions made by industry and individuals, 6 billion tons of carbon 
dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere each year, and emissions are 
increasing by 3% annually. Yet no real congressional debate has occurred 
on whether to control these private decisions in order to reduce carbon 
emissions. Even worse, the executive branch blithely ignores the problem 
and advocates a more aggressive pursuit of the traditional energy and 
growth policies that have brought about the rise in carbon dioxide 
emissions. As a result, we go on unwittingly pursuing business as usual, 



making short-term calculations of costs and benefits, and bring upon 
ourselves the greenhouse effect almost by default. 

Indeed, in its purest form, muddling through is policy making by default 
instead of by conscious choice — simply an administrative device for aggre- 
gating individual preferences into a “will of all” that may bear almost no 
resemblance to the “general will.” Unfortunately, the contrasting synoptic, 
or outcome-oriented, style of decision making cannot be fully achieved in 
the real world because of limits to our intellectual capacities (even with 
computers), lack of information (plus the cost of remedying it), uncertainty 
about our values and conflicts between them, and time constraints, as well as 
many lesser factors. Moreover, in its pure form, synoptic decision making 
could lead to irreversible and disastrous blunders, obliviousness to peoples 
values, and the destruction of political consensus. Thus some measure of 
muddling through is a simple administrative necessity in any political system. 

However, we Americans have taken muddling through, along with 
laissez faire and other prominent features of our political system, to an 
extreme. We have made compromise and short-term adjustment into 
ends instead of means, have failed to give even cursory consideration to 
the future consequences of present acts, and have neglected even to try 
to relate current policy choices to some kind of long-term goal. Worse, 
we have taken the radical position that there can be no common interest 
beyond what muddling through produces. In brief, we have elevated 
what is an undeniable administrative necessity into a philosophy of 
government, becoming in the process an “adhocracy” virtually oblivious 
to the implications of our governmental acts and politically adrift in the 
dangerous waters of ecological scarcity. 

Disjointed incrementalism, then, provides an almost sufficient ex- 
planation of how we have proceeded step by step into the midst of 
ecological crisis and of why we are not meeting its challenges at present. 
As a normative philosophy of government, it is a program for ecological 
catastrophe; as an entrenched reality with which the environmental 
reformer must cope, it is a cause for deep pessimism. At the very least, the 
level or quality of muddling through must be greatly upgraded, so that 
ecology and the future are given due weight in policy making. But 
goal-oriented muddling through comes close to being a contradiction in 
terms (especially within a basically democratic system). Moreover, in- 
crementalism is adapted to status-quo, consensus politics, not to situations 
in which policy outcomes are of critical importance or in which the 
paradigm of politics itself may be undergoing radical change (Dror 1968, 
especially pp. 300-304; Lindblom 1965; Schick 1971, especially p. 158). 
Thus steering a middle course will be difficult at best, and it may not be 
possible at all during the transition to a steady-state society. 

The American Political Economy II: The Non-politics of Laissez Faire 


Policy Overload, Fragmentation, and Other 
Administrative Problems 

Disjointed incrementalism is not the only built-in impediment to an 
effective response to ecological scarcity. In the first place, the growing 
scale, complexity, and interdependence of society make the decision- 
making environment increasingly problematic, for the greater the num- 
ber of decisions (and, above all, the greater the degree of risk they 
entailed), the greater the social effort necessary to make them. Given the 
size and complexity of the task of environmental management alone, 
especially with the declining margin for ecological or technological error, 
there would be a danger of administrative overload. But the crisis of 
ecological scarcity is only one crisis among many — part of a crisis of 
crises that will afflict decision makers in the decades ahead (Platt 1969). 
An allied crisis of priorities also impends, as burgeoning demands for 
environmental cleanup, more and better social services, and so on com- 
pete for the tiny portion of government resources remaining after the 
“fixed” demands of defense, agricultural supports, and other budgetary 
sacred cows are satisfied, so that decision makers will simply lack suffi- 
cient funds to act effectively across the board. (In the United States, this 
has been true throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.) In addition, there 
may be critical shortfalls in labor power, especially technical and scientific 
labor power. In short, the problems are growing faster than the where- 
withal to handle them, and political and administrative overload is there- 
fore a potentially serious problem for the future, if not right now. 

A second serious problem is fragmented and dispersed administrative 
responsibility. The agency in charge of decisions on air pollution, for 
example, usually has no control over land-use policy, freeway building, 
waste disposal, mass transit, and agriculture! Also, some elements of policy 
are handled at the federal level, whereas others belong to the state and 
local governments; the boundaries of local governments, especially, have 
no relationship to ecological realities. As a result, it frequently happens 
that one agency or unit of government works at cross-purposes with 
another, or even with itself, as in the old Atomic Energy Commission, 
which was charged with both nuclear development and radiation safety.* 
Furthermore, each agency has been created to perform a highly 

* The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose mission is protection of the 
public from nuclear and radiation hazards, in practice also promotes nuclear 
energy. It has become, as do most government agencies, the captive of the 
industry it is charged to regulate. 



specialized function for a particular constituency, which leads to a single- 
mindedness or tunnel vision that deliberately ignores the common inter- 
est. In brief, we have as many different policies as we have bureaus and it 
is difficult to get them to pull together. 

A third major defect of our policy-making machinery is that decisions 
inevitably lag behind events — usually far behind. In part, the problem is that 
the decision makers’ information and knowledge are deficient and out of 
date. Owing to the complexity and scope of the problems of environmental 
management, these deficiencies are either impossible to remedy or too costly. 
Thus, even if they are inclined to be forward-looking, decision makers are 
virtually obliged to muddle through critical problems with stopgap measures 
that provoke disruptive side effects. Much the larger part of the time-lag 
problem, however, is that the procedural checks and balances built into our 
basically adversary system of policy making can subject controversial deci- 
sions to lengthy delays. For example, Congress in 1977 amended the Clean 
Air Act to protect visibility in large national parks and wilderness areas; it 
took until 1990, however, for the EPA to issue draft regulations to imple- 
ment the law. Thereafter, before the EPA issued its final regulations, the 
White House weakened them, sacrificing two-thirds of the visibility reduc- 
tions that the EPA had proposed (Rauber 1991, p. 28). The matter may still 
end up in court. By presidential decree, the White House Office of Manage- 
ment and Budget subjects all EPA regulations to cost-benefit analysis. But 
the 1977 law requires power plants to install “the best available retrofit 
technology” to eliminate the air pollution impairing visibility in the parks. 
Opponents argue that in so far as cost-benefit analysis causes regulations to 
be issued that do not require the use of the best available technology, the use 
of such anlysis is illegal. They also argue a proper cost-benefit analysis, in any 
event, supports the original EPA draft regulations — that OMB simply 
manipulated the data to weaken them. This example suggests that the best 
we can expect in most cases is long wars of legal attrition against environ- 
mental despoilers. However, the adversary legal system is already having 
difficulty coping with environmental issues,* and there is some risk that 
environmental policy making may simply bog down in a morass of 

* Increased volume is only part of the problem. The traditional legal machinery 
for redressing civil wrongs, designed for two-party litigation, is having trouble 
with standing to sue and other issues that crop up in the typical environmental 
suit, where society as a whole is one of the parties. Also, technology creates new 
situations faster than the courts can work out precedents, and much of the 
scientific evidence used in environmental litigation is of a probabilistic and 
statistical nature that ill accords with the standards of proof traditionally 
demanded by courts. 

The American Political Economy II: The Non-politics ofLaissez Faire 


hearings, suits, countersuits, and appeals, as government agencies, business 
interests, and environmentalist groups use all the procedural devices 
available to harass each other. And even if total stalemate is avoided, there 
are bound to be significant delays — an ominous prospect now that an 
anticipatory response to problems has become essential for their solution. 

Additional hindrances to effective environmental decision making 
abound. The narrowly rationalistic norms and modus operattdi of 
bureaucracies, for example, are at odds with the ecological holism 
needed for the task of environmental management. History also shows 
that regulatory agencies tend to be captured by the interests they are 
supposed to be regulating, so that they rapidly turn into guardians of 
special interest instead of public interest. In addition, the institutions 
charged with environmental management are frequently so beholden 
to their own institutional vested interests or so dominated by sheer 
inertia that they actively resist change, employing secrecy, special legal 
advantages available to government agencies, and other devices to 
squelch the efforts of critics and would-be reformers (for example, 
Lewis 1972). In recent years, environmental decision making has been 
hindered by nonstatutory mechanisms established in the White House. 
The President’s Council on Competitiveness, for example, is a non- 
statutory body that, after closed meetings with industry, has repeatedly 
forced the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite regulations to 
make them hospitable to industry interests. As of this writing, the 
Council has successfully forced the EPA to gut four major pro- 
visions — some say the “pillars” — of the 1990 Clean Air Act (Weisskopf 
Sept. 1991, p. Al).* These difficulties suggest that the problem is not 
simply to overcome inertia and vested interest but rather to arrest the 
institutional momentum in favor of growth created by two centuries 
of pro-development laws, policies, and practices. This will require 
across-the-board institutional reform, not merely new policies. 

In sum, administrative overload, fragmented and dispersed authority, 
protracted delays in making and enforcing social decisions, and the 
institutional legacy of the era of growth and exploitation are likely to 
obstruct timely and effective environmental policy making. 

* Industry and administration lobbyists had tried to persuade Congress to adopt 
their substitutes for all four provisions when the legislation was being 
considered, but Congress had refused to adopt them. Environmentalists may 
thus be in a strong position to challenge these regulations as illegal, but even if 
they prevail, implementation of the law’s requirements will be substantially 



How Well Are We Doing? 

None of the tendencies and trends we have just considered inspires much 
optimism that our political institutions at any level are adequate to the 
challenges of dealing with ecological scarcity. Although the final verdict is 
not yet in, this conclusion is certainly reinforced by the quality of their 
performance so far. 

Energy policy is a good illustration. Despite a consensus that a 
coherent national energy policy is absolutely essential to avoid economic 
and social turmoil, a menacing international trade deficit, and even the 
compromise of its political independence, the United States has no 
genuine policy, much less a coherent one. Instead, the past decade has 
seen almost continual dithering and muddle and devotion to business as 
usual. In 1989 President Bush called for a long-term comprehensive 
policy, but what he proposed in 1991 was a mere grab-bag of favored 
projects of the oil, coal, gas, and nuclear power industries. Among these 
was more off-shore oil drilling, drilling in environmentally pristine areas, 
and the doubling of nuclear power capacity by 2030. The President 
proposed few conservation measures, only a minuscule increase in re- 
search on renewable energy, and support only for selected alternative 
fuels (ethanol and methanol but not for hydrogen, fuel cells, or electric 
vehicles). He proposed nothing to combat greenhouse gas emissions, 
except as an incidental consequence of his support for nuclear power. 

When the Reagan administration made similar proposals during its 
years in office, it and Congress fought each other to a stalemate on energy 
conservation, environmental protection, and the relative support for 
renewable energy and fuels versus the support for fossil fuel and nuclear 
energy development. For example, a majority in Congress has thus far 
rejected oil drilling in the Arctic and other wilderness areas; instead it 
favors raising automobile fuel-efficiency standards to 40 miles per gallon 
by 2001, which would save 5 to 10 times the oil expected to be produced 
by oil drilling in the Arctic. But the Congressional majority is not 
veto-proof and the result is a stalemate. Continued stalemate, regrettably, 
sets the stage for an eventual general collapse of our energy economy 
because of either rising costs of petroleum or intolerable levels of pol- 

Similarly, our political institutions have so far conspicuously failed to 
meet the challenge represented by the automobile. The decline in air 
quality was sufficiently alarming to cause Congress to pass the Clean Air 
Act in 1970. For all its faults, this was a landmark piece of environmental 
legislation, and acting under the laws authority, government agencies 
forced emission control on a reluctant automobile industry. However, 

The American Political Economy II: The Non-politics ofLaissez Faire 


Detroit several times succeeded in winning delayed compliance. More- 
over, the air-quality standards mandated by Congress in the 1970 Clean 
Air Act simply could not be achieved through technology alone. Yet 
when the Environmental Protection Agency tried to impose on key 
municipalities pollution-control plans that would have penalized or re- 
stricted car use (through gas rationing and parking surcharges, for in- 
stance), the resulting political ruckus soon forced the EPA into retreat, 
and all pretense of meeting the original standards was abandoned. At the 
same time, Congress tried to control emissions through Corporate Fuel 
Economy Standards (CAFE). A 1975 law required manufacturers to raise 
the average efficiency of the cars they sold to 27.5 miles per gallon by 
1985. Again, the executive branch granted the automobile industry many 
delays in complying with the law, and by 1990, efficiency standards had 
reached only 26.5 miles per gallon (which meant that the hoped-for 
reduction in pollution was nullified by a doubling, since the law was 
passed, of the number of vehicle miles driven). The 1990 Clean Air Act 
does tighten emission standards further and hopes to achieve its objectives 
via technological changes such as the use of reformulated gasoline in the 
nine most polluted metropolitan regions by 1995. But although the 1990 
law will help, cleaning up the air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions 
cannot be achieved by more stringent emissions standards alone, because 
improvements in clean-air technology are more than eaten up by growth 
in the automobile fleet and increases in vehicle miles driven. In short, as 
was shown in Chapter 3, Americans must simply drive much less than 
they do now (with much more efficient vehicles) and use mass transit 
much more. Unfortunately, having allowed the automobile so completely 
to dominate our lives that to restrict its use would produce instant 
economic and social crisis, we are repeatedly reduced to the desperate 
hope that some kind of technological fix will turn up in time to prevent 
natural feedback mechanisms — extreme price rises, national bankruptcy, 
intolerable levels of air pollution — from taking matters out of our hands. 

Thus in these and other critical areas we are failing to meet the 
challenges. Everybody wants clean air and water, but nobody wants to pay 
the price. Nor do we wish to give up the appurtenances of a high-energy 
style of life or to accept the major restructuring of the economy and 
society that would be needed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions sig- 
nificantly. Even modest invasion of sacrosanct private property rights — 
for example, in the form of vitally needed land-use law — has also proved 
to be well beyond our current political capacity. In fact, since the 
beginning of the 1980s there has been considerable backlash and back- 
sliding on environmental issues, leading to relaxed standards and blatant 
denial of problems. In short, although there has been genuine progress 



since environmental issues first became a matter for political concern, our 
political institutions have so far largely avoided the tasks of environmental 
management and have for the most part done too little too late in those 
efforts they have undertaken. 

As we have seen, the basic institutional structure and modus operatidi 
of the American political system are primarily responsible for this. Never- 
theless, the lack of courage and vision displayed by the current set of 
political actors should not escape notice. Neither Congress nor the 
executive branch has provided real leadership or faced up to crucial issues. 
To the extent that they have acted, as in the area of pollution control, they 
have acted faintheartedly or, what is almost worse, expediently rather 
than effectively. Say what one will about the institutional impediments 
and the difficulty of the problems, it is hard to conclude that our political 
leaders are doing the job they were elected to do. But of course, the 
inability or reluctance of our political officials to act simply reflects the 
desires of the majority of the American people, who have so far evinced 
only modest willingness to make minor sacrifices (for example, to sup- 
port and engage in recycling) for the sake of environmental goals, but no 
willingness to accept fundamental changes in their way of life (for 
example, to restrict development to areas where public transit is available, 
or to support and use public transit and drive less). Our public officials 
can hardly be expected to commit political suicide by forcing unpopular 
environmental measures on us. Until the will of the people ordains 
otherwise or fundamental changes are quite literally forced on us, the best 
we can expect is piecemeal, patchwork, ineffective reform that lags ever 
farther behind onrushing events. 

The Necessity for Paradigm Change 

Our political institutions, predicated almost totally on growth and abun- 
dance, appear to be no match for the mounting challenges of ecological 
scarcity. This is a shocking conclusion about a political system that was 
once regarded, even by many foreigners, as marvelously progressive. For 
all its faults, the virtues of the American political system are undeniable: 
It worked well for nearly two hundred years, and it was eminently just 
and humane by any reasonable historical standard. Unfortunately, the 
problems of scarcity that confront the system today are problems that it 
was never designed to handle. Many of its past virtues are therefore irrelevant; 
what we must now address are its equally undeniable failings in the face 
of ecological scarcity. 

Efforts to patch up the current paradigm of politics with new modes 
of decision making and planning — or even with new policies — will not 

The American Political Economy II: The Non-politics ofLaissez Faire 


succeed. These can only delay, and perhaps intensify, the ultimate break- 
down. Only a new politics based on a set of values that are morally and 
practically appropriate to an age of scarcity will do (see Chapter 8). To 
achieve this new politics will require a revolution even more fundamental 
than that which created our nation in the first place, for the characteristic 
features of American civilization, not merely the nature of the regime, 
must be transformed. A great question stands before the American polity: 
Will we make the effort to translate our ideals of equality and freedom 
into forms appropriate to the new age of scarcity, or will we not even try, 
continuing prodigally to sow as long as we can and leaving the future to 
reap the consequences? Only time will tell whether the return of scarcity 
must inevitably presage retrogression to the classical scenario of ine- 
quality, oppression, and conflict, but one way or another, we Americans 
are about to find out what kind of people we really are. 


Ecological Scarcity and 
International Politics 

The Comparative Perspective 

Our principal focus so far in Part II has been on the American political 
system, specifically the strong market orientation of its political economy 
However, as noted in the Introduction, the United States is only the most 
extreme version of modern industrial civilization, and the peculiarities of 
the American version of this civilization ought not to be allowed to 
obscure the wider implications of the analysis. Some problems may be 
uniquely American, but most are universal in one form or another. Let us 
therefore extend the analysis first to other nations and then to the 
international political arena. We shall find that the basic political dynamics 
and dilemmas of ecological scarcity discussed in Chapter 4 remain un- 
changed. Furthermore, much of the specific analysis of American institu- 
tions in Chapters 5 and 6 can in fact be applied, with appropriate 
modifications, to all developed and even many developing countries, 
capitalist and communist alike, as well as to the world in general. The 
crisis of ecological scarcity is thus a planetary crisis. 

Western Europe 

In Chapters 2 and 3, we compared various aspects of Western Europe’s 
environmental situation to the United States. Western Europe’s environ- 
mental problems are essentially the same in character and magnitude as 
those of the United States, and its governments on the whole seem to 
exhibit the same degree of capacity to deal with them. In some ways, 




however, Western European governments have dealt with their problems 
more effectively than this country has. For example, Western European 
governments, with the exception of the United Kingdom, have managed 
to reduce atmospheric emissions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and 
particulates to lower levels per unit of gross domestic product than has 
the United States. On the other hand, emissions of nitrogen oxides, 
volatile organic compounds, and toxic wastes are rising in almost all 
countries. Surface waters in Western Europe suffer from low oxygen 
levels, eutrophication from nitrates and phosphates, and high levels of 
toxic metals. In addition, lakes are dying from acid deposition. Although 
isolated success stories have occurred (for example, Sweden reduced 
discharges of toxic metals into its waters from 1300 tons per year in 1972 
to 55 tons per year in 1985), Western European waters are generally in the 
same condition as those in the United States — polluted, with little overall 
improvement. In certain respects, as a result of its greater density of 
population and industrial development, Europe’s pollution problems are 
worse than our own. The contamination of the Baltic and Mediterranean 
Seas and of the Rhine River, heavy oil spillage from tankers and re- 
fineries, and the “acid rains” that fall particularly on Scandinavia are only 
some of the most notorious examples. Europeans also have more 
threatened species and declining forests than does the United States. 

With respect to resources, Western Europe’s predicament is clearly 
much worse. Even taking due account of the temporary respite that 
development of North Sea gas and oil has brought, Europe’s long-term 
dependence on external sources of energy is far greater than our own; for 
example, Western Europe has nothing resembling America’s vast coal 
reserves. Similarly, Western European mineral resources are almost negli- 
gible compared to actual and potential demand. Perhaps more critically, 
Western Europe as a whole is a major net importer of food and fiber, and 
the dependence of many European countries, such as Denmark and the 
Netherlands, on food imports is overwhelming (both to feed the po- 
pulace and, ironically, to sustain energy-intensive agricultural systems that 
are mainstays of their economies). Thus Western Europe is even more 
overextended ecologically in relation to its own resources than the 
United States. For us Americans, a major disruption of world trade would 
cause painful retrenchment, to be sure, but there would be little danger of 
starvation, and domestic sources of energy would be available in sufficient 
quantity to keep the economy limping along. Europe does not enjoy such 
luxury. World trade must continue along established lines or economic 
collapse threatens. 

Western European political systems have the same tendency as the 
American system to permit activities that degrade the environment. All 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


share the same growth-oriented world view. All have followed the path 
blazed by the United States toward high mass consumption and, to a 
somewhat lesser extent, high energy use. All are mass democracies in 
which political parties compete for favor largely on the basis of how well 
they can satisfy the material aspirations of the citizenry. In short, having 
traveled the same basic path in roughly the same manner for the last 250 
years, we Westerners have wound up in approximately the same place. 

Nevertheless, just as there are some differences in the nature and degree 
of ecological scarcity, so too there are some significant differences in the 
potential for political adaptation. For one thing, Europe has had to contend 
with ecological scarcity in numerous ways even during an era of unparalleled 
abundance. Not possessing the same cornucopia of found wealth, for exam- 
ple, Europe has never been so profligate with its resources as the United 
States. For instance, Europeans manage to achieve roughly comparable living 
standards while using only about half as much energy per capita as 
Americans. Also, Europeans practice sustained-yield forestry, control land use 
quite stringendy by U.S. standards, support and use public transit more than 
Americans do, and so on. Thus, both because of necessity and because of a 
generally less doctrinaire attachment to the principles of laissez faire, there 
exists in Europe a much greater willingness to accept planning and social 
controls. Moreover, at least in some quarters, disenchantment with bourgeois 
acquisition as a way of life has grown markedly. The rise of Green political 
parties in several countries has introduced an ecological agenda into the 
political arena. In general, therefore, European nations may cope somewhat 
better with ecological scarcity than the United States, despite the greater 
physical challenges they wall face. 


Although in terms of ecological scarcity Japan s situation is much more 
desperate than that of Europe, Japan possesses countervailing political and 
social advantages over Europe. With about half the population of the 
United States, a land mass about the size of Montana that is mosdy 
mountainous and poorly endowed with mineral and energy resources, 
and the second largest economy in the world, Japan is a very tight little 
island indeed. Prevented from gaining by military means a position of 
power, respect, and economic security in the international community, 
the Japanese entered the great postwar international GNP stakes deter- 
mined to win economically what could not be won by force of arms. 
They “aped” (their own word) the acquisitive ethic and mass-democratic 
institutions of the West so effectively that they achieved economic growth 
of unprecedented intensity and rapidity. This extraordinary “success” 



earned them notorious pollution problems, such as the mercury poison- 
ing that killed 1900 people and paralyzed or affected thousands more, and 
a level of dependence on foreign trade and foreign sources of raw 
materials and fuels that makes them extremely vulnerable to international 
turmoil and resource scarcities, whether due to natural exhaustion or to 
artificial restriction by cartels. Japan thus faces ecological scarcity in an 
extreme form. A serious interruption of oil supplies from the Persian 
Gulf, a substantial decline in the fish catch, the inability or unwillingness 
of the United States and other countries to continue to supply vast 
quantities of food, timber, minerals and other vital products — these and 
numerous other potential threats could have severe consequences for 
Japan, which has totally committed itself to the modern way of industrial 
life and to living far beyond its ecological means. 

Beginning in the early 1970s, and especially after the energy crisis of 
1973-1974, the Japanese awoke to the fact that they were headed for an 
ecological precipice. The Japanese government cracked down on pollu- 
tion with progressively greater severity and has recently moved to con- 
serve energy and control growth in general. An awkward problem for 
Japanese political leaders, who are largely drawn from the business- 
oriented, conservative Liberal— Democratic Party (LDP) that has ruled 
throughout the postwar era, is that the powerful economic interests that 
are the LDPs main source of support, financial and otherwise, are also the 
chief polluters and main beneficiaries of growth. On the other hand, 
there are a number of positive factors. Because of extreme congestion, the 
cost of living, the cost and importance of educating children, and the cost 
of caring for the aged (before the government started to do so in 1973), 
Japanese families have successfully controlled their birth rate in the 
postwar era. That success was achieved despite the ruling party’s efforts to 
overcome labor shortages by tightening the country’s abortion law, pro- 
hibiting the sale of birth control pills, and proposing to give “baby 
bonuses” to women who had a third and fourth child. In addition, the 
adoption and implementation of environmental regulations have been 
facilitated by a tradition of government intervention in all areas of 
economic and social life. The result has been that on many environmental 
indicators, Japan by the late 1980s was doing better than either the 
United States or Western Europe. For example, between 1975 and the 
late 1980s, Japan had reduced its annual sulfur dioxide emissions by more 
than 60%; the comparable reduction for the United States was only 25%. 
Japan was the only industrialized country that successfully reduced emis- 
sions of nitrogen oxides during that period. Likewise, Japan has been 
reducing toxic pollution of its waterways more than most European 
countries and more than the United States. 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


Eastern Europe and The Soviet Union 

The former Soviet bloc is the most interesting and revealing comparative 
case. Because they were the leading non-market industrialized nations, these 
countries should seemingly have been exempt, if not from the basic political 
dynamics of scarcity, at least from most of the failings of American market 
economics and politics discussed in the preceding chapters. In fact, however, 
the U.S.S.R. and its former satellites have severe environmental problems 
and have demonstrated far less capacity to deal with them than the United 
States and other market-oriented democracies.* 

That the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have serious environment 
problems is not denied by governmental spokespeople. Cities are blackening 
and their structures are deteriorating, mountains are teeming with dead trees, 
crop yields are diminishing, rivers are litde more than open sewers, ground- 
water is polluted, and clean drinking water is scarce. Life expectancy is 
actually going down in some areas. Statistically, Russian men die 7 to 10 years 
earlier than men in other developed countries; in Northern Siberia, men die 
22 years and women 14 years earlier than men and women in the northern 
countries of Western Europe (Yablokov et al. 1991, p. C3). People in 
industrial areas have high rates of cancer and of respiratory, skin, liver, and 
other diseases. Indeed, some pollution levels are astonishing by Western 
standards. Coal is the primary fuel in Eastern Europe; it is “dirty” coal, 
containing high sulfur levels, and is burned with few or no emission controls. 
Czechoslovakia’s soils receive 25 metric tons of emitted pollutants annually 
per square kilometer, compared to 0.6 tons for Sweden. Twenty million 
Russians breathe highly polluted air. Many people in the former Soviet bloc 
have become environmental refugees; they have moved from Prokopyevsk, 
Nizhny Tagil, Kirishi, Angarsk, and other places in search of clean air and 
water (Yablokov et al. 1991, p. C3). Industries and municipalities throughout 
the former bloc commonly discharge their wastes, untreated, into rivers. The 
Soviet Union treats only 30% of its sewage annually. Many present and 
former Soviet cities — among them Riga, the capital of Latvia — have no 
sewage treatment plants at all. 75% of Russia’s surface water is too polluted 
to drink. 50% of Poland’s cities don’t have sewage treatment plants; 35% of 
its industries don’t treat their wastewater. 65% of Poland’s river water is too 
corrosive (to say nothing of its contamination with sewage and toxins) to be 

* In the summer of 1991, what had been the Soviet Union appeared to be 
breaking up into independent or semi-independent countries, with a 
confederate government at the “center” whose final form has not yet emerged. 
However, we shall continue to use the term Soviet Union to refer to the area that 
was, until mid- 1991, one country. 



used by industry. Even automobile pollution, which should be low 
because the number of cars per capita in these countries is far lower than 
in the West, is a problem. Soviet bloc cars had no pollution controls. Some 
were built with two-stroke engines that burn oil and gasoline together to 
create a sooty, smoking exhaust. Needless to say, with such high levels of 
air and water pollution, lakes everywhere in the region are expiring; in 
the Soviet Union, whole seas are polluted and their fish populations 
dying. A 1989 study showed that 69% of the fresh- water fish in Russia are 
“extremely contaminated” by mercury-based pesticides (Yablokov et al. 
1991, p. C3). Sadly, people are dying too; the Soviet Ministry of Health 
has itself found that disease and mortality rates are higher in badly 
polluted areas than in other areas of the Soviet Union. 

Eastern European countries also use energy inefficiently — about 
half as efficiently as does the United States, which itself is only half as 
efficient as Western Europe and Japan. Moreover, despite a relatively 
favorable position compared to Europe and America, the U.S.S.R. is 
not exempt from ecological scarcity with respect to its resources. For 
example, sizable grain purchases in recent years have made it evident 
that the Soviet Unions agricultural situation is problematic, even if the 
prospect of Malthusian starvation is remote. Some of the problem may 
be attributed to deterioration of the country’s soils. Two-thirds of the 
country’s arable land suffers from soil erosion; 1.5 billion tons of 
topsoil are lost each year. In addition, more than 10% of the U.S.S.R.’s 
irrigated land has been lost to salinization. Soil deterioration and 
pollution result in 16 billion rubles worth of crop losses each year in 
the Soviet Union. 

Even the Soviet Union’s apparent abundance of domestic energy 
resources may be illusory, at least in part. Some of its resources are not 
readily exploitable, for they lie in remote and environmentally forbidding 
regions; they also may be less substantial than rough estimates had 
indicated. Finally, they probably cannot be fully exploited without ad- 
vanced Western technology and Western capital, which Soviet bloc 
countries desperately seek (and which, at least from public sources in the 
West, has not been readily available). 

Why have communist countries failed so dismally at coping with 
their environmental problems? Communist propaganda denied the pos- 
sibility of such failure. After all, it said, the Soviet system is not held in 
thrall by selfish market interests. Therefore it would easily be able to deal 
with any environmental problems that cropped up, whereas pollution and 
other environmental ills in the West were seen as serious emerging 
“contradictions” (inherent self-destructive forces) that capitalist nations 
would not be able to overcome. It didn’t work out that way. Why? 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


First, the ideology of growth and belief in the power of technology 
were even more strongly entrenched in the U.S.S.R. than in the West, so 
abandoning or even compromising growth in production for the sake of 
environmental protection or resource conservation was a much more 
heretical concept. For one thing, as pointed out in the Introduction, the 
Marxist utopia depends for its achievement on the abolition of material 
scarcity. Thus to abandon growth would be tantamount to abandoning a 
utopian promise that had inspired the whole society. Worse, this cherished 
utopian goal was used to justify many features of Soviet life that seemed 
to conflict with basic Marxist principles. Soviet leaders, for example, 
explained the use of differential rewards (as opposed to the true com- 
munist principle “to each according to his needs”) as a necessary ex- 
pedient to help build the requisite material and productive base for a 
utopia of abundance. More important, the “proletarian dictatorship” and 
“democratic centralism” exercised by the Communist Party were also 
rationalized with this brand of logic. The loss of such convenient justifica- 
tions could thus cause awkward political repercussions. 

Second, largely as a result of this fundamental ideological bias 
toward material expansion (but also because of preoccupation with 
national security) the primacy of narrow economic concerns in policy 
matters was almost total, and fixation on production to the virtual 
exclusion of all else made the Soviet elite very resistant to more than 
token concern for the environment. 

Third, although they were employed by the state rather than by 
private corporations, Soviet economic managers competed with other 
managers within the basic framework of the national plan, and their 
reluctance to spend money on nonproductive pollution control, their 
willingness to foist the external costs of production onto others, and their 
desire to win promotions by overproducing the quota made them be- 
have, with respect to the environment, just like capitalist managers. 
Moreover, economic managers in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe 
had far greater political power than their Western counterparts. In one 
respect, the tragic logic of the commons operated even more viciously in 
those countries: Because not only air and water, but virtually all natural 
resources, were (thanks to state ownership) treated as free or semi-free 
goods, there was an even greater tendency on the part of economic 
managers to use land, energy, and mineral resources wastefully. 

Fourth, because government decisions were made in private council 
by leaders who put production and the vested interests of the state 
economic bureaucracy first, those concerned about the problems of 
growth had little opportunity to influence policy as it was being formed; 
they could only point out the adverse consequences of past policies. 



Environmentalists, to the extent that they dared to appear, were vigorous- 
ly suppressed in Soviet bloc countries. Only after Chernobyl and Mikhail 
Gorbachev s glasnost could people participate in environmental protests. 

In short, Soviet economic and political institutions seem designed 
to produce environmental deterioration and resource depletion more 
relentlessly than their American counterparts. The essential reason was 
sardonically stated by a leading expert on Soviet environmental policy: 
“The replacement of private greed by public greed is not much of an 
improvement” (Goldman 1970). But even that was an understatement, 
for private greed has been subject to modest, though inadequate, 
controls. The irony is that Soviet bloc environmental standards on the 
books were stringent; air and water quality standards were even stricter 
than those in Western countries. This was because the standards were 
promulgated on the basis of public health and did not need to be 
compromised in order to accommodate powerful economic interests. 
There was only one problem: The powerful economic interests— that 
is, powerful government ministries, operating in secret and with no 
outside input — saw to it that the regulations were not enforced. The 
standards had no chance of prevailing among ministers whose overrid- 
ing goal was growth. 

The communist experience demonstrates that although both Western 
and communist economic institutions produce environmental deteriora- 
tion, the nature of the particular political institutions through which the 
“greed” for material growth is translated into economic output makes a 
difference. In the final analysis, the greed of powerful economic interests 
can be controlled more easily when openness and democracy prevail. The 
communist experience also demonstrates that if they are very strongly 
committed to growth, highly centralized and effective governments may 
wreak more and faster havoc on the environment than even the most 
laissez-faire government. 

The Third World 

The developing or less-developed countries (LDCs)* constituting the 
so-called Third World of course differ greatly from each other in many 
important respects, but for the purposes of our discussion, little is lost by 

* Lacking any reasonable alternative, we employ these well-established but, it 
seems to us, culturally biased terms in their narrow economic sense. Bhutan (see 
Box 27), a country that preserves the ancient and admirable Tibetan culture in 
virtually all of its traditional richness, is scarcely undeveloped, fanatical 
modernizers to the contrary notwithstanding. 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 263 

Bhutan: Developing Sustainably 

Bhutan, alone among modern countries, practices sustainable 
development. According to Christopher Flavin, ( World Watch, 1990) 
although the country’s last two kings have supported some 
economic growth, they have given first priority to the environment. 
Government officials nationalized the country’s forests in 1979 to 
stop them from being over-exploited. Now, forestry officials permit 
only selective logging at a rate they believe is sustainable. They have 
established large wildlife reserves and greenbelts in which no log- 
ging is permitted. They have outlawed the export of raw logs. The 
country generates most of its energy renewably — with wood and 
hydropower. Government policy favors energy growth by more 
hydropower and solar energy rather than by fossil or nuclear fuels. 
Bhutan’s population growth has been about 2% per year. Women 
enjoy a high status. All couples receive population counseling at the 
time of marriage and after the birth of each child. The government 
has made contraceptives available at 70 Basic Health Units spread 
around the country. There are no great disparities of wealth in the 
country. Most farmers grow their crops on small plots and graze cat- 
tle and yaks in the mountains. 

Bhutan has escaped the growth ideology common to the rest of the 
world partly because of geography and partly because of culture. Bhutan 
is a very isolated Himalayan country; it has been almost entirely inacces- 
sible to the outside world. Its religion, Buddhism, retains a love for na- 
ture and all living things. It has few economic tensions and no powerful 
business interests — no industries left behind by the British. Its people 
know little about consumer items that people in other cultures crave. Its 
kings have not been corrupted by business or other powerful interests, 
and they have left much government decision making to local govern- 
ment units. As the country proceeds to develop, economic and con- 
sumer interests that clash with the requirements of sustainability may yet 
come into being. But so far, Bhutan has retained an exceptional status. 

considering them together. In brief, most LDCS, and especially the group 
of exceptionally poor countries sometimes called the Fourth World, are 
not sufficiently developed to experience neo-Malthusian ecological scar- 



city. Instead, they confront ecological scarcity in its crudest Malthusian 
form: too many people, too little food. Because this core problem, along 
with its major ramifications, was covered in Part I, no more need be said 
about it here, except that almost everywhere the difficulties seem greatly 
to exceed the capacity of current governments in the LDCs to cope with 
them. Even now, for example, many governments cannot assure all their 
citizens enough food to maintain life, and the future prospects are grim. 
However, there are some interesting exceptions to this general picture. 

The LDCs run the gamut from virtual non-development to what is 
usually called semi-development, in which considerable industrialization 
and modernization coexist with continued non-development, especially 
in rural areas. In general, countries moving toward semi-development 
seem to follow established models. Mexico and Brazil, for example, have 
followed a basically American path (Mexico City has a smog problem 
worse than that of Los Angeles), and Brazils treatment of its undeveloped 
wealth, especially such fragile and irreplaceable resources as the Amazon 
rain forest, epitomizes frontier economics at its most heedless. On the 
other hand, Taiwan and South Korea have proceeded more or less along 
the lines laid down by Japan and have encountered many of the same 
problems. The environmental problems of developing countries are ex- 
acerbated by the burden of their debt to the developed world. In 1989 
developing countries paid $77 billion in interest on their debts and $85 
billion in principal, paying out $50 billion a year more in debt repayments 
to wealthy nations than they received in new developmental assistance. 
This massive transfer of resources from poor to rich not only im- 
poverishes the people of these regions but is also the propelling force 
behind many environmental disasters — the unsustainable logging of 
forests, the overgrazing of pasture, the depletion of mineral resources, the 
overexploitation of fisheries, and the growing of crops (such as coffee) 
that can earn cash as exports rather than crops that can feed their own 
famished people. 

The International State of Nature 

The International Macrocosm 

If in the various national microcosms constituting the world political 
community the basic dynamics of ecological scarcity apply virtually 
across the board, in the macrocosm of international politics they operate 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


even more strongly. Just as it does within each individual nation, the tragic 
logic of the commons brings about the over-exploitation of such com- 
mon-pool resources as the oceans and the atmosphere. Also, the pressures 
toward inequality, oppression, and conflict are even more intense within 
the world political community, for it is a community in name only, and 
the already marked cleavage between rich and poor threatens to become 
even greater. Without even the semblance of a world government, the 
solutions of such problems depends on the good will and purely volun- 
tary cooperation of over 170 sovereign states — a prospect that does not 
inspire optimism. Let us examine these issues in more detail, to see how 
ecological scarcity aggravates the already very difficult problems of inter- 
national politics. 

The Global Tragedy of the Commons 

The tragic logic of the commons operates universally, and its effects 
are readily visible internationally — in the growing pollution of inter- 
national rivers, of seas, and now of even the oceans; in the overfishing 
that has caused a marked decline in the fish catch in some areas, as well 
as the near extinction of the great whales; and in the impending 
scramble for seabed resources by maritime miners or other exploiters. 
There is no way to confine environmental insults or the effects of 
ecological degradation within national borders, because river basins, 
airsheds, and oceans are intrinsically international. Even seemingly 
local environmental disruption inevitably has some impact on the 
quality of regional and, eventually, global ecosystems. Just as it does 
within each nation, the aggregation of individual desires and actions 
overloads the international commons. But, like individuals, states tend 
to turn a blind eye to this, for they profit by the increased production 
while others bear most or all of the cost, or they lose by self-restraint 
while others receive most or all of the benefit. Thus Britain gets the 
factory output while Scandinavia suffers the ecological effects of “acid 
rain”; the French and Germans use the Rhine for waste disposal even 
though this leaves the river little more than a reeking sewer by the 
time when, downstream, it reaches fellow European Economic Com- 
munity member Holland. 

Even though the problems are basically the same everywhere, the 
political implications of the tragedy of the commons are much more 
serious in the international arena. It has long been recognized that 
international politics is the epitome of the Hobbesian state of nature: 
Despite all the progress over the centuries toward the rule of internation- 



al law, sovereign states, unlike the citizens within each state, acknowledge 
no law or authority higher than their own self-interest; they are therefore 
free to do as they please, subject only to gross prudential restraints, no 
matter what the cost to the world community. For example, despite 
strong pressures from the international community, including a 5-year 
moratorium on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Com- 
mission, Japan and Iceland continue to hunt whales. More than 13,000 
whales have been killed since the international community banned 
whaling. The United States relentlessly spews huge amounts of carbon 
dioxide into the air commons, despite efforts among other industrialized 
nations to get an agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions. 

In international relations, therefore, the dynamic of the tragedy of the 
commons is even stronger than within any given nation state, which, being 
a real political community, has at least the theoretical capacity to make 
binding, authoritative decisions on resource conservation and ecological 
protection. By contrast, international agreements are reached and enforced 
by the purely voluntary cooperation of sovereign nation states existing in a 
state of nature. For all the reasons discussed in Chapter 4, the likelihood of 
forestalling by such means the operation of the tragedy of the commons is 
extremely remote. Worse, just as any individual is nearly helpless to alter the 
outcome by his or her own actions (and even risks serious loss if he or she 
refuses to participate in the exploitation of the commons), so too, in the 
absence of international authority or enforceable agreement, nations have 
little choice but to contribute to the tragedy by their own actions. This 
would be true even if each individual state was striving to achieve a domestic 
steady-state economy, for unless one assumes agreement on a largely autarkic 
world, states would still compete with each other internationally to maxi- 
mize the resources available to them. Ecological scarcity thus intensifies the 
fundamental problem of international politics — the achievement of world 
order — by adding further to the preexisting difficulties of a state of nature. 
Without some kind of international governmental machinery with enough 
authority and coercive power over sovereign states to keep them within the 
bounds of the ecological common interest of all on the planet, the world 
must suffer the ever-greater environmental ills ordained by the global 
tragedy of the commons. 

The Struggle Between Rich and Poor 

Ecological scarcity also aggravates very seriously the already intense 
struggle between rich and poor. As is well known, the world today (some 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


forthcoming changes will be discussed in the following section) is sharply 
polarized between the developed, industrialized “haves,” all affluent in a 
greater or lesser degree and all getting more affluent all the time, and the 
underdeveloped or developing “have nots,” all relatively and absolutely 
impoverished and (with few exceptions) tending to fall further and 
further behind despite their often feverish efforts to grow. The degree of 
the inequality is also well known: The United States, with only 6% of the 
world’s population, consumes about 30% of the total energy production 
of the world and comparable amounts of other resources; it throws away 
enough paper and plastic plates and cups to set the table for a worldwide 
picnic six times a year (Durning 1991, p. 161). 

The rest of the “haves,” though only about half as prodigal as the 
United States, still consume resources far out of proportion to their 
population. Conversely, per capita consumption of resources in the 
developing world ranges from one-tenth to one-hundredth that in the 
“have” countries. To make matters worse, the resources that the 
“haves” enjoy in inordinate amounts are largely and increasingly 
imported from the developing world. For example, developed nations 
consume two-thirds of the world’s steel, aluminum, copper, lead, 
nickel, tin, zinc, and three-fourths of the world’s energy Thus 
economic inequality and what might be called ecological colonialism 
have become intertwined. In view of this extreme and long-standing 
inequality (which, moreover, has its roots in an imperialist past), it is 
hardly surprising that the developing world thirsts avidly for develop- 
ment or that it has become increasingly intolerant of those features of 
the current world order it perceives as obstacles to its becoming as rich 
and powerful as the developed world. 

Alas, the emergence of ecological scarcity appears to have sounded 
the death knell for the aspirations of the LDCS. Even assuming 
(contrary to fact) that there were sufficient mineral and energy resour- 
ces to make it possible, universal industrialization would impose in- 
tolerable stress on world ecosystems. And humans, in particular, could 
not endure the pollution levels that would result. Already, the one-fifth 
of the world’s population that lives in industrial countries generates 
most of the world’s toxic wastes, two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse 
emissions, three-fourths of the world’s nitrogen oxides and sulfur 
emissions, and 90% of the gases that are already destroying the world’s 
protective ozone layer. 

In short, the current model of development, which assumes that all 
countries will eventually become heavily industrialized mass- 



consumption societies, is doomed to failure/ Naturally, this conclusion is 
totally unacceptable to the modernizing elites of the developing world; 
their political power is generally founded on the promise of development. 
Even more important, simply halting growth would freeze the current 
pattern of inequality, leaving the “have nots” as the peasants of the world 
community in perpetuity. Thus an end to growth and development 
would be acceptable to the developing world only in combination with 
a radical redistribution of the world’s wealth and a total restructuring of 
the worlds economy to guarantee the maintenance of economic justice. 
Yet it seems absolutely clear that the rich have not the slightest intention 
of relieving the plight of the poor if it entails the sacrifice of their own 
living standards. Ecological scarcity thus greatly increases the probability 
of naked confrontation between rich and poor. 

Who Are Now the “Haves” and the Have Nots”? 

An important new element has been injected into this struggle. The great 
“resource hunger” of the developed world, and even of some parts of the 
developing world, has begun to transfer power and wealth to those who 
have resources to sell, especially critical resources such as petroleum. As a 
result, the geopolitics of the world is changing. 

This process can be expected to continue. The power and wealth of 
the major oil producers are bound to increase over the next five decades, 
despite North Sea and Alaskan oil and regardless of whether or not the 

* The ecologically viable alternative, depicted in Part III, is a locally 
self-sufficient, semi-developed, steady-state society based on renewable or 
“income” resources such as photosynthesis and solar energy. Only Bhutan 
seems self-consciously to be developing sustainably as a matter of principle (see 
Box 27). Others find themselves unable to see such apparent frugality as a 
realistic option. All the pressures impel them toward “efficiency,” 
standardization, centralization, and large scale. In addition, because sustainable 
development does not work when population pressure is extreme and most 
developing countries are heavily overpopulated, choosing restraint or frugality 
sometimes implies a willingness to use harsh measures — for example, 
compulsory abortions to stabilize populations or forced resettlement to save the 
rainforests. It is not surprising that most leaders prefer to continue in the 
illusory hope of achieving heavy industrialization. In addition, the lust for 
status and prestige, the desire for military power, and many other less than 
noble motives are also prevalent, and the frugal modesty of semi-developed 
self-sufficiency can do little to satisfy them. 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) manages to act 
in a unified manner. 

Some believe that oil is a special case and that the prospect of 
OPEC-type cartels for other resources is dim (Banks 1974; Mikesell 
1974). These assessments may be correct, but it seems inevitable that in 
the long run an era of “commodity power” must emerge. The hunger of 
the industrialized nations for resources is likely to increase, even if there 
is no substantial growth in output to generate increased demand for raw 
materials, because the domestic mineral and energy resources of the 
developed countries have begun to be exhausted. The United States, for 
example, already imports 100% of its platinum, mica, chromium, and 
strontium; over 90% of its manganese, aluminum, tantalum, and cobalt; 
and 50% or more of 12 additional key minerals (Wade 1974). However, 
the developed countries seem determined to keep growing, and assuming 
even modest further growth in industrial output, their dependence on 
developing world supplies is bound to increase markedly in the next few 
decades.* Thus, whatever the short-term prospects for the success of 
budding cartels in copper, phosphates, and other minerals, the clear 
overall long-term trend is toward a sellers market in basic resources and 
therefore toward “commodity power,” even if this power grows more 
slowly and is manifested in a less extreme form than that of OPEC."*' 

Thus the basic, long-standing division of the world into rich and 
poor in terms of GNP per capita will eventually be overlaid with another 
rich-poor polarization, in terms of resources, that will both moderate and 
intensify the basic split. Although there are many complex interdepen- 
dencies in world trade — for example, U.S. food exports are just as critical 
to many countries as their mineral exports are to us — it is already clear 

* Naturally, there will be short-term exceptions. Developed countries, for 
example, will remain somewhat independent of Middle Eastern oil supplies 
while North Sea oil production and Alaskan oil production remain at high levels 
and as long as other non-OPEC sources of oil exist. On the other hand, one of 
the reasons for the Persian Gulf war was undoubtedly the desire to keep Kuwaiti 
oil in friendly hands. The respites from the overall trend toward increasing 
dependence will be transitory and limited to particular commodities. 

^ Actually, OPEC-like cartels in other resources might be preferable to a 
disorganized sellers market. Cartels can be bargained with and integrated into 
the normal diplomatic machinery, so that the drastic price fluctuations and 
outright interruptions of supply that cause extreme economic distress are 
avoided. But the price of stability is higher prices for commodities and increased 
political power for cartel members. 



that the resource-rich nations of the developing world stand to gain 
greater wealth and power at the expense of the “haves.” Already, through 
nationalization and forced purchase, the OPEC nations have largely 
wrested control of drilling and pumping operations from the Western oil 
companies; it is only a matter of time before they expand into other areas 
of the oil business. In addition, as is already evident, the newly resource- 
rich are not likely to settle for mere commercial gains. They have 
long-standing political grievances against other nations — especially the 
developed nations — that they will try to remedy with their new power. 
Unfortunately, the defense the industrial powers are most likely to use 
against unfriendly economic or political moves on the part of any of 
these countries will be military, as it was in the Persian Gulf war, where 
the industrial nations have an overwhelming advantage. 

This discussion leaves out the majority of poor countries — those 
without major resources of their own. As they are forced to pay higher 
prices to resource-rich countries, they will suffer — indeed, they already 
have suffered — major setbacks to their prospects for development. This is 
true not only of the hopelessly poor countries of Africa and Asia but also 
of countries whose development programs have already acquired some 

In sum, world geopolitics and economics are in for a reordering. 
Western economic development has involved a net transfer of resources, 
wealth, and power from the current “have nots” to the “haves,” creating 
the cleavage between the two that now divides the world. In recent 
years, developed nations have added the additional burden of debt 
repayment, increasing the wealth transferred to them from the “have 
nots.” In the long term, this situation will change; wealth will also be 
transferred to those nations that have scarce resources. But only the 
relatively few “have nots” that possess significant amounts of resources 
will gain; the rest of the poor will become more abject than before. Thus 
the old polarization between rich and poor seems likely to be replaced 
by a threefold division into the rich, the hopelessly poor, and the newly 
enriched — and such a major change in the international order is bound 
to create tension. 

Conflict or Cooperation? 

How this tension will play out in the years ahead is hard to say. The 
danger is that to many of the declining “haves,” ill-equipped to adapt to 
an era of “commodity power” and economic warfare, the grip of the 
newly enriched on essential resources will seem an intolerable 
stranglehold to be broken at all costs. At the same time the poor, having 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


had their revolutionary hopes and rising aspirations crushed, will have 
little to lose but their chains. Thus the world may face turmoil and war 
on top of ecological scarcity — a horrible prospect, given the ecologically 
destructive character of modern warfare (see Box 28). 

Some, on the other hand, hope or believe that ecological scarcity 
will have just the opposite effect: Because the problems will become so 
overwhelming and so evidently insoluble without total international 
cooperation, nation states will discard their outmoded national 
sovereignty and place themselves under some form of planetary govern- 
ment that will regulate the global commons for the benefit of all 
humanity and begin the essential process of gradual economic re- 
distribution. In effect, states will be driven by their own vital national 
interests (which they recognize as including ecological as well as tradi- 
tional economic, political, and military factors) to embrace the ultimate 
interdependence needed to solve ecological problems (Shields and Ott 
1974). According to this hypothesis, the very direness of the outcome if 
cooperation does not prevail may ensure that it will. 

The pattern, so far, has fallen somewhere between these extremes. 
War for resources has broken out on occasion; as we have noted, one of 
the reasons for frequent United States military activity in the Middle East 
is to keep the control of oil fields and commerce in friendly hands. On 
the other hand, there has also been considerable talk about cooperative 
international action to deal with the problems of environmental degrada- 
tion, and some momentum toward greater cooperation has developed. 
However, with the possible exception of agreements among the nations 
of the European Economic Community, which are in a common market, 
international environmental agreements have been piecemeal and unen- 
forceable, or what they have required has been that which the most 
reluctant nation has been willing to concede — measures that are usually 
inadequate. The international environmental regulatory process thus re- 
sembles process politics in the American context, with this difference: 
The players — in this case the polluters — cannot be forced to come to the 
bargaining table; if they do come, they can’t be forced to agree to 
anything; and if they do agree to something, the agreement cannot be 

An Upsurge in Conference Diplomacy 

A look at the record of international environmental agreements thus far 
concluded reveals only modest accomplishments. By the late 1960s some 
of the alarming global implications of pollution and general ecological 




War and Ecocide 

War may occasionally be the lesser of evils, but by its very nature it has 
always been anathema to any reasonable person. To the human 
ecologist it is doubly horrible. One of the most appalling features of the 
modern world is the enormous amount of ecological damage and 
resource wastage that can be attributed to warfare and military 
preparedness. Resources that should have been used for human welfare 
(or that should never have been used at all) have been sacrificed to the 
gods of national security in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam and 
the deserts of the Middle East. But this is only the most obvious 
wastage. The military consumes prodigious amounts of energy; the Pen- 
tagon uses more energy in a year than a mass transit system consumes 
in 14 years. In just 1 hour, an F-16 fighter jet on a training flight con- 
sumes more fuel than an average motorist does in a year (Renner 1991, 
p. 137). The U.S. military emits more carbon into the atmosphere than 
the total emissions of Great Britain. It emits 76% of the halons and 50% 
of the CFCs the United States emits into the stratosphere (Renner 
1991, p. 140). It uses more nickel, copper, aluminum, and platinum than 
the whole developing world combined (Renner 1991, p. 140). The Pen- 
tagon also generates more toxic wastes than the five biggest chemical 
companies combined (Renner 1991, p. 143). We have already discussed 

degradation had become widely apparent, and preparations began for the 
first major international conference on the environment at Stockholm in 
1972. Depending on ones point of view, the Stockholm Conference — to 
give it its proper title, the United Nations Conference on the Human 
Environment — was either a major diplomatic success or an abysmal 
failure. On the positive side, the elaborate preparations for the conference 
(each country had to make a detailed inventory of its environmental 
problems), the intense publicity accorded the over two years of prelimi- 
nary negotiations, and the conference itself fostered a very high level of 
environmental awareness around the globe. Virtually ignored by 
diplomats in 1969, the environmental crisis had by 1972 rocketed right 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


the frightening amounts of nuclear toxic waste generated by the U.S. 
and Soviet military machines. 

Even more criminal from an ecological point of view is the increas- 
ingly ecocidal nature of modern warfare. Nuclear warfare, of course, is 
the prime villain, for any substantial number of nuclear explosions 
would poison world ecosystems and gene pools for untold generations 
and probably disrupt the structure of the atmosphere enough to cause 
mass extinctions. (In addition, the widespread dispersal of nuclear 
materials and technology for so-called peaceful purposes increases the 
probability of nuclear proliferation and therefore of nuclear war and ter- 
rorism.) However, any form of chemical and bacteriological warfare is 
potentially ecocidal — for example, the use of broadcast herbicides in 
Vietnam. But even more conventional forms of modern warfare are ex- 
ceedingly destructive of local ecologies. In Vietnam, for instance, the 
U.S. military devastated millions of acres of farm and forest with satura- 
tion bombing and giant earth-moving machinery. Iraq was bombed 
back into the nineteenth century in the Persian Gulf war. Moreover, 
the fires that the Iraqi government set in the oil fields of Kuwait wasted 
a tremendous amount of oil before they were extinguished. 

Of course, armies have employed ecocidal weapons — for example, 
scorched earth and salted lands — since ancient times. Yet war today, or 
even armed peace, is far more wasteful of scarce resources and far more 
destructive to the earth. War has been rightly called the ultimate pol- 
lutant of the planet Earth. 

up alongside nuclear weapons and economic development as one of the 
big issues of international politics. The second major achievement of the 
Stockholm Conference was the establishment of the United Nations 
Environment Program (UNEP) to monitor the state of the world en- 
vironment and to provide liaison and coordination between nation states 
and among the multitude of governmental and non-governmental or- 
ganizations concerned with environmental matters. Finally, a few pre- 
liminary agreements covering certain less controversial and less critical 
ecological problems, (such as setting aside land for national parks and 
suppressing trade in endangered species) were reached either at the 
conference or immediately thereafter. 



Despite these acknowledged achievements, environmentalists were 
by and large rather unhappy with the conduct and outcome of the 
conference. They were especially disillusioned, for example, by the way 
the original ecological purity of the conference’s agenda was rapidly 
watered down by pressures from countries of the developing world, who 
made it plain that they would have nothing to do with the conference 
unless, in effect, underdevelopment was interpreted as a form of pollu- 
tion. Moreover, a great part of the proceedings was devoted not to the 
problems on the agenda, but to the kind of “have” versus “have not” 
debate discussed above, and routine ideological posturing on such politi- 
cal issues as “colonialism” consumed additional time. Also, cold-war 
politics refused to take a vacation. Thus the perhaps naively idealistic hope 
of many that the ecological issue would at last force quarrelsome and 
self-seeking sovereign nation states to put aside stale old grudges, recog- 
nize their common predicament, and act in concert to improve the 
human condition was completely dashed. 

Worse, some of the features of the current world order most objec- 
tionable from an ecological point of view were actually reaffirmed at 
Stockholm, including the absolute right of sovereign countries to de- 
velop their own domestic resources without regard to the potential 
external ecological costs to the world community, and the unrestricted 
freedom to breed guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human 
Rights. Subsequent environmentally oriented conferences have made no 
inroads on these fundamental principles, and they have mounted only 
cumbersome attacks on some forms of environmental degradation/ 

For example, the U.N. World Population Conference in 1974 some- 
how managed to end “without producing explicit agreement that there 
was a world population problem” (Walsh 1974). Another World Popula- 
tion Conference, in Mexico City in 1984, also failed to achieve concrete 
results. The best the international community has been able to achieve on 
population policy is that by 1988, 48 heads of government had signed a 
1985 statement supporting a world goal of population stabilization. 
However, no binding targets or concrete program have been agreed to. 
The United States, which at one time provided leadership and major 
financing for international population control efforts, has reduced its 
support for them since 1981. 

* Among the most important U.N. environmental conferences not mentioned 
in the text were conferences on women (1974), human settlements (1976), 
water (1977), desertification (1977), renewable energy (1981), human 
environment (1982), and the ozone layer (1987, 1989). 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


The first international Law of the Sea Conference took place in 
1973. Its supporters wanted to establish an all-encompassing treaty deal- 
ing with overfishing, seabed mining, and pollution controls, premised on 
the view that the oceans are the “common heritage of mankind.” They 
failed. By the time a draft treaty was finally agreed to in 1982, it had 
carved the oceans into national zones of exploitation for 200 miles out 
from each nation s coasts; the nation controlling the Exclusive Economic 
Zone may control who, if anyone, may enter the zone for economic 
purposes. Only seabeds were declared a “common heritage of mankind,” 
to be mined according to regulations established by an International 
Seabed Authority. However, even this was too much for the United States 
and many other industrial countries. The U.S. position is that seabeds 
should be mined on a first-come, first-served basis, without international 
regulation. Therefore, the United States has refused to sign or ratify the 
treaty. Behind these differences in legal position are differing national 
interests, not just differing views on the best way to protect the ocean 
environment. The industrial countries have or will soon have the capacity 
to begin deep seabed mining; they can enrich themselves further, or at 
least put off the day of their own mineral depletion, with a first-come, 
first-served approach. The developing world, on the other hand, benefits 
from a more controlled “common heritage” approach. So nationalism 
may block adoption of the proposed treaty. Only 40 countries had ratified 
it by 1989, and 60 must do so for it to go into effect. 

Other international agreements affecting the sea are confined to 
narrower issues, but even so, some have been difficult to implement. 
MARPOL, the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of 
Pollution from Ships, established minimal distances from the land for 
ocean dumping, limited the dumping of garbage, required ports to 
provide facilities for receiving trash from incoming ships, and prohibited 
the dumping of plastics. Only 39 nations had ratified this treaty 18 years 
later, and it took 14 years for the United States to ratify it. Under the 
treaty, the U.S. ban on the dumping of plastics took effect in 1989, 
although the largest source of plastics dumping, the armed forces, will not 
be brought under the treaty until 1994. The London Dumping Conven- 
tion of 1972 has won wider support; 63 nations have signed it. It prohibits 
ocean dumping of heavy metals, specified carcinogens, and radioactive 
and other hazardous substances. Yet enforcement of the treaty has been 
spotty; violators are caught and punished with only as much vigor as each 
nation chooses to muster. In this connection, as we have noted earlier, 
even ocean treaties and conventions that have nearly universal support, 
(such as the moratorium on whaling and the prohibition of driftnet 
fishing) either have loopholes through which nations can jump or, as with 



whaling, are often openly flouted. Occasionally, another signatory to such 
a treaty who is angry about such defiance may engage in a trade sanction 
against a delinquent country. Generally, however, a country’s flouting of 
environmental agreements does not result in the international com- 
munity’s imposing a meaningful penalty. 

Still, ocean conventions and treaties have had more results beneficial 
to the environment than have international agreements concerning haz- 
ardous wastes and air pollution. Regarding hazardous wastes, the most the 
international community has managed to agree to is a prohibition of 
transboundary shipment of such goods by stealth. A 1989 United Nations 
draft treaty forbids transboundary movement of waste without notifica- 
tion by the exporter, without the consent of the importer, or with 
documents that do not conform to the shipment. A 1990 United Nations 
system of Prior Informed Consent regarding restricted chemicals 
(primarily pesticides) requires that prospective importing nations be 
provided with information about the benefits and risks of a chemical 
before deciding whether to allow it to be imported. Environmentalists 
had wanted a stronger draft making it illegal for a country to export to 
another country a chemical that is banned within the exporting country 
itself. But the United States, which exports large amounts of banned 
pesticides, led the successful opposition to that proposal. 

International air pollution treaties and conventions have also been 
weak. Developing countries have largely refused to agree to international 
controls of air pollution, fearing that such controls will impede their pace 
of development. Most air pollution agreements have been concluded 
only among Western European nations, sometimes with the United 
States and/or Britain not going along, although they were invited to sign. 
Examples include the 1988 conventions to reduce sulfur and nitrogen 
emissions. The United States and Western European governments have 
also had several conferences on reducing greenhouse emissions, but the 
United States has refused to agree to targets to reduce carbon emissions 
and has frustrated the attempts of European nations to come to a binding 
agreement among themselves. The best of the international air pollution 
agreements was the Montreal commitment by industrial countries to 
phase out their use of CFCs by 2000 (see Chapter 3). But we have seen 
that this agreement will be too little and too late to avert hundreds of 
thousands of cancer deaths and millions of cancer cases that will result 
from ozone depletion. 

The forces that prevent strong international environmental agree- 
ments are many. First, the spirit of militant nationalism that has animated 
so much of the history of the postwar world has not abated, except 
among Western European governments. Indeed, the tendency of the 

Ecological Scarcity and International Politics 


world is to move in the opposite direction, with the nations of Eastern 
Europe and the Soviet Union breaking up into militant ethnic states. 
Nation states insist on the absolute and sovereign right of self-determina- 
tion in use of resources, population policy, and development in general, 
regardless of the wider consequences. Second, the demand among Third 
World countries for economic development has, if anything, increased in 
intensity, and whatever seems to stand in the way, as ecological considera- 
tions often do, gets rather short shift. Third, largely because their prospects 
for development are so dim, the countries of the developing world have 
begun to press even harder for fundamental reform of the world system 
(a “new international economic order”). Thus every discussion of such 
environmental issues as food and population is inevitably converted by 
those who represent the developing world into a discussion of interna- 
tional economic justice as well, which enormously complicates the 
process of negotiation. In short, environmental issues have become pawns 
in the larger diplomatic and political struggle between the nations. 

In addition, diplomats, like national leaders, have attempted to handle 
the issues of ecological scarcity not as part of a larger problematique but 
piecemeal, so that their interaction with other problems is all but ignored. 
For example, the World Food Conference was solely concerned with the 
problem of feeding the hungry and paid virtually no attention to the 
eventual ecological consequences of growing more food or subsidizing 
further overpopulation with radically increased food aid. To some extent, 
therefore, the successes of international conferences that simply try to 
solve one small piece of the larger problem are as much to be feared as 
their failures. 

If one wished to be optimistic, one could conclude that the world 
community has taken the first attitudinal and institutional steps toward 
meeting the challenges of ecological scarcity. A more realistic assessment, 
however, would be that although modest environmental improvements 
have been achieved, major impediments to further progress remain. One 
might even be forced to conclude, more pessimistically, that the world 
political community as presently constituted is simply incapable of 
coping with the challenges of ecological scarcity, at least in a timely way. 

Planetary Government or the War of All Against All 

In short, the planet confronts the same problems as the United States, but 
in a greatly intensified form. Even before the emergence of ecological 
scarcity, the world s difficulties and their starkly Hobbesian implications 
were grave enough. Some saw the “revolution of rising expectations” 
pushing the world toward a situation in which wants greatly exceeded 



capacity to meet them, provoking Hobbesian turmoil and violence 
(Spengler 1969). The world lives under the blade of a deadly Sword of 
Damocles. The hair holding this environmental Sword has come loose; 
pollution and other environmental problems will not obligingly post- 
pone their impact while diplomats haggle, so the Sword is already 
descending toward our unprotected heads. There is thus no way for the 
world community to put the environmental issue in the back of its mind 
and go about its business. The crisis of ecological scarcity is a Sword that 
must be parried, squarely and soon. 

The need for a world government with enough coercive power over 
fractious nation states to achieve what reasonable people would regard as 
the planetary common interest has become overwhelming. Yet we must 
recognize that the very environmental degradation that makes a world 
government necessary has also made it much more difficult to achieve. 
The clear danger is that, instead of promoting world cooperation, eco- 
logical scarcity will simply intensify the Hobbesian war of all against 
all — with the destruction of the common planet (for purposes of human 
habitation) the tragic outcome. 


Learning to Live 
with Scarcity 


Toward a Politics of the 
Steady State 

How we are to learn to live with ecological scarcity is the problem that 
will dominate the coming decades. However daunting this task must 
seem, it is indeed possible to make a transition to a relatively desirable 
steady state instead of simply letting nature take its course, which is 
certain to lead in the opposite direction. However, we must recognize 
that a large measure of devolution or retrogression in terms of our 
current values will inevitably follow 400 years of continual evolution 
and “progress.” But not all the political, social, economic, cultural, and 
technological advances of the past four centuries must be abandoned. 
Too, the sooner we confront the challenge squarely, the greater the 
likelihood of saving the best of this legacy and, what may be more 
important, of making a virtue out of necessity. Our actions over the 
critical next few decades will therefore either create or preclude a 
relatively desirable future for ourselves and our descendants. However, 
we offer no concrete or formal solutions to the political dilemmas of 
ecological scarcity. There are several reasons for this. 

Learning to See Anew 

First, the most important prerequisite for constructive change is a new 
world view based on, or at least compatible with, the realities of the 
human ecological predicament. The ecological crisis is in large part a 
perceptual crisis: Most people simply do not realize that they are part of 
a delicate web of life that their own actions are destroying, yet any viable 
solution will require them to see this. Once such a change in 




“paradigm” has occurred — once people have chosen to adopt ecological 
limitations deliberately as a consequence of their new understanding — 
then practical and humane solutions will be found in abundance. Indeed, 
as we have already seen, the essential elements of the steady state are not 
so hard to discern, and some good work has been done on suitable 
institutions. But the psychological readiness and political will to adopt 
them are wanting. Thus “metanoia,” or a fundamental transformation of 
world view, must pave the way for concrete action. 

Second, at this juncture any specific set of solutions would immediately 
be criticized as politically unrealistic. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? 
Current political values and institutions are the products of the age of 
abnormal abundance now drawing to a close, so any solutions predicated on 
scarcity would necessarily conflict with them. Of course, to work “within 
the system” to prevent further ecological degradation and promote in- 
cremental change toward the steady state is an essential task deserving great 
support. But to accept current political reality as not itself subject to radical 
change is to give away the game at the outset and render the situation 
hopeless by definition. Indeed, it must be understood that ultimately politics is 
about the definition of reality itself As John Maynard Keynes pointed out, we are 
all the prisoners of dead theorists; the ideas of John Locke, Adam Smith, Karl 
Marx, and all the other philosophers of the Great Frontier in effect define 
reality for us. Before we can even see what the problem is, we must throw off 
their bonds they have clamped on our imagination. To put it another way, 
normal politics is indeed “the art of the possible”; it consists of working as 
best one can for valued objectives “within the system” — that is, inside the 
current political paradigm. However, politicking (to give it its true name) is 
only one part of politics, and the lesser part at that. In its truest sens e, politics 
is the art of creating new possibilities for human progress. Because the current 
system is ecologically defective, we must direct our concrete political ac- 
tivities primarily toward producing a change of consciousness that can lead 
to a new political paradigm. Until people at large begin to see a new kind of 
reality based on ecological understanding, environmental politicking within 
the system can be only a rear-guard holding action designed to slow the pace 
of ecological retreat. Rejecting current political realities and relying primari- 
ly on a change of consciousness may seem utterly impossible to achieve, 
given what people want and believe today, but it should be remembered that 
only a little over a century ago it was legal to treat human beings as property. 
Already, many people are finding our slavish treatment of nature stupid at 
best and morally repugnant at worst. The events of the decades to come are 
bound to increase their number. Looking back on us as we ourselves look 
back on our slave-holding ancestors, our descendants will wonder why it 
took us so long to come to our senses. 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


Third, the transition will take several decades. Thus it is not necessary for 
us to have all the answers to ecological scarcity today. What is essential is for 
us to begin the disciplined and serious search for such answers now, instead 
of waiting until the point of panic-stricken extremity. We sometimes forget, 
for example, that our Constitution was the culmination of several decades of 
intense and sustained political discussion and action by our founding fathers. 
We confront a challenge perhaps greater than theirs, and we should not 
deceive ourselves about the magnitude and duration of the task. Moreover, 
as this example suggests, no one person, no one work, no one invention can 
hope to supply more than a small piece of the solution that will eventually 
emerge. The final result will be a mosaic of many elements, some designed 
by dint of human effort, others fashioned by the accidents of history; Thus to 
advance and promulgate specific solutions at this stage might be positively 
harmful, for such premature closure is likely to deflect us from the much 
more crucial task of going back to first principles — that is, to politics. Once 
we have agreed on political “first principles” and the lessons of history, as our 
founding fathers generally did at Philadelphia, then building the institutional 
machinery to incorporate them will not be such a difficult task. In sum, 
before trying to give rebirth to our political institutions, we must first allow 
time for a proper gestation. 

Fourth, the hour is very late. Now r that everyone can recognize the 
evils of ecological scarcity, it is probably much too late for a carefully 
planned transition to the steady state. Had we prudently listened to earlier 
warnings and acted appropriately when the environmental crisis first 
came to light many years ago, we might have devised a comprehensive 
master plan for the transition. This is no longer possible, for as we have 
seen, some measure of ecological overshoot (with attendant disruptive 
side effects that are unpredictable) is virtually foreordained. Besides, we 
are so committed to most of the things that cause or support ecological 
evils that we are almost paralyzed; nearly all the constructive actions that 
could be taken at present (for example, drastically restricting population 
growth) are so painful to so many people in so many ways that they are 
indeed totally unrealistic, and neither politicians nor citizens would 
tolerate them.* Only after nature has mandated certain changes and 
overwhelmingly demonstrated the advisability of others will it be pos- 
sible to think in terms of a concrete program of transition. Until then, our 

* All societies display social fanaticism to some extent. Their first response to 
threatening doubts is to redouble their efforts to shore up belief in the current 
paradigm, which is after all a kind of civil religion. Thus our tendency is to react 
to the challenges of ecological scarcity by ignoring or denying it and mounting 
more and more desperate efforts to stave off the inevitable changes. 



time and effort is better spent laying the scientific and philosophical 
groundwork so that the moment of ripeness will find us prepared to 
move rapidly from thought to action. 

Finally, in many respects seen and unseen, the process of transition is well 
under way It is no accident that many radical critiques of industrial civiliza- 
tion, either grounded in ecology or self-consciously related to it, have been 
produced in recent years. Nor is it surprising that so many groups and 
individuals are experimenting with radically different life styles and tech- 
nologies, many of them avowedly based on ecological principles. Nor that a 
quasi-religious ferment of selff examination and self-criticism seems to have 
sprung up throughout the industrial world, leading to new images of people 
and of human needs and potentials. The raw materials for social transforma- 
tion are being produced right now, and the process of tearing down the old 
reality and constructing the new has already begun.* Thus, although this 
natural transition process is halting, belated, and imperfect, the ill of ecologi- 
cal scarcity is tending to manufacture its own remedy. Certainly, inspiring 
leadership and a comprehensive theory will be necessary at some point; 
without them, ordinary people would lack the social vision and sense of 
direction they need to make constructive personal responses to any social 
challenge, and the transition would degenerate into a mere muddling 
through. However, to a very large extent the transition will evolve, instead of 
being created by theorizing and social planning. The individuals and groups 
composing the collectivity will more or less willingly seek a viable and 
attractive set of social answers by responding to the pressures of ecological 
scarcity in their daily lives. The answers that emerge will then be ratified by 
theory. (Similarly, colonial Americans had already evolved many features of 
the distinctively American way of life well before they were formalized in 
political institutions.) 

In short, excessive or premature specificity about the institutions of 
the steady-state society is either not very useful or a positive hindrance. 
Again metanoia is the key, for it will almost automatically engender 
concrete, practical arrangements that are congruent with it. 

Nevertheless, a general outline of a solution to the problems of 
ecological scarcity is implicit in the concept of the steady state. Let us 
therefore review the essential characteristics of a steady-state or sus- 
tainable society. 

* In his The Promise of the Coming Dark Age, the historian L. S. Stavrianos 
identifies important elements of this process and shows how the “grass” of a new 
civilization based on decentralized self-management is even now pushing up 
through the “concrete” of the moribund industrial order. 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


The Characteristics of the Steady State 

It is not possible to specify the structural features of the steady-state 
society. The great diversity of human societies, which have existed in a 
virtual steady state throughout most of recorded history, shows that there 
are many different ways to similar ends. However, any such set of 
structural features would clearly have to reflect certain basic charac- 
teristics of the steady state. In preceding chapters we have discussed in 
some detail its purely physical characteristics: primary dependence on 
income or flow resources, the maintenance of population levels within 
the ecological carrying capacity, resource conservation and recycling, 
generally good ecological husbandry, and so on. Let us now focus on the 
necessary sociopolitical characteristics of any steady-state society, regardless 
of how it chooses to give them social form. For the reasons given in the 
last section, the following treatment is tentative. It is designed merely to 
indicate the general direction we will travel as we move from our current 
industrial civilization toward the steady state. 

Communalism We have been living in an age of rampant individualism 
that arose historically from circumstances of abnormal abundance. It 
seems predictable, therefore, that on our way toward the steady state we 
shall move from individualism toward communalism. The self-interest 
that individualistic political, economic, and social philosophies have jus- 
tified as being in the overall best interests of the community (as long as 
the growth “frontier” provided a safe outlet for competitive striving) will 
begin to seem more and more reprehensible and illegitimate as pollution 
and other aspects of scarcity grow. And the traditional primacy of the 
community over the individual that has characterized virtually every 
other period of history will be restored. How far the subordination of 
individual to community values and interests will have to go and how it 
will be achieved are for the future to determine. Rigid caste systems and 
inflexible feudal hierarchies are unlikely to be necessary, but the degree of 
individual subordination (for example, of property “rights”) that will 
eventually be required would probably seem quite insupportable to many 
living today. 

Authority As the community and its rights are given increasing social 
priority, we shall necessarily move from liberty toward authority, for the 
community will have to be able to enforce its demands on individuals. 
This prospect may seem alarming, but the historical record does not 
justify the fear that any concession of political rights to the community 



must lead to the total subjugation of the individual by an all-powerful 
state. There is no reason why authority cannot be made strong enough to 
maintain a steady-state society and yet be limited. The personal and civil 
rights guaranteed by our Constitution could be largely retained in an appropriately 
designed steady-state society. Nor need the right to own and enjoy adequate 
personal property be taken away. Only the right to use private property 
in ecologically destructive ways would have to be checked. Thus au- 
thority in the steady state need not be remote, arbitrary, and capricious. In 
a well-ordered and well-designed state, authority could be made con- 
stitutional and limited. 

Government Allied with the foregoing transition will be a movement away 
from egalitarian democracy toward political competence and status. Because 
the mere summation of equally regarded individual wants into Rousseau s 
“will of all” has become ecologically ruinous, we must find ways of achiev- 
ing the “general will” that stands higher than the individual and his or her 
wants. To this end, certain restrictions on human activities must be com- 
petently determined, normatively justified, and then imposed on a populace 
that would do something quite different if it was left: to its own immediate 
desires and devices. This can be accomplished in more than one way. Power 
can be given or allowed to accrue to those who are fittest to rule (as in Thomas 
Jefferson’s “natural aristocracy”). However, the creation of a ruling class, no 
matter how open and well qualified, immediately delivers us into the classic 
“Who will watch the guardians?” dilemma — and as noted earlier, the greater 
the scarcity, the greater the likelihood of oppression of the ruled by the 
ruling class. This dilemma can be avoided, at least in part, by founding the 
political system by common consent on a set of values fit to be ruled by — that 
is, principles designed to foster the common interest of the steady state 
instead of the particular interests that would destroy it. If this could be done 
successfully, government would be respected and there would be a fun- 
damental agreement among citizens on how their communal life was to be 
regulated. But administrative authority would be decentralized and within 
the reach of the citizens. Citizens pursuing an ecological ethos would 
themselves promote and support laws obliging themselves to live within 
ecological limits, much as citizens enforced the criminal laws in nineteenth- 
century America (Tocqueville 1835, p. 71). Then the need for the ministra- 
tions of a ruling class would be much lessened, and to the extent that a class 
of Jeffersonian natural aristocrats was still needed to make the system work, 
it could be subjected to constitutional restraints, also as in the earliest days of 
the American republic. (See Box 29 for further discussion of this “design 
criteria” approach.) Nevertheless, once the basis of political values becomes 
something other than personal self-interest, age-old dilemmas related to the 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


legitimacy of rule immediately arise. Future political theorists will there- 
fore have to overcome the exceedingly difficult problem of legislating the 
temperance and virtue needed for the ecological survival of a steady-state 
society without at the same time exalting the few over the many and 
subjecting individuals to the unwarranted exercise of administrative 
power of to excessive conformity to some dogma. 

Politics Because the free play of market forces and individual initiative 
produces the tragedy of the commons, the market orientation typical of 
most modern societies will have to be strictly governed. If we want a 
viable and attractive steady-state society, we must determine its basic 
principles and then put them into effect in either a planned or a designed 
fashion (see Box 29 for a discussion of the important distinction between 
the two). Another way of stating this is to say that we must move from 
non-politics toward politics. Laissez faire is a device for making political 
decisions about the distribution of wealth and other desired goods 
automatically and rather non-politically, instead of in face-to-face politi- 
cal confrontation (as happened, for example, in the Greek democracies). 
As noted in Chapter 6, shifting from a process or non-political mode to 
an outcome or political mode holds serious dangers, for the political 
struggle can escalate into revolution and counter-revolution (again as 
happened in the Greek democracies).* It will thus be necessary for the 
political and social philosophers of the steady state to discover principles 
of legitimacy, authority, and justice that will keep the political struggle 
within reasonable bounds. Yet even if they are successful in this task, they 
are unlikely to be able to discover a device as effectively non-political as 
the market for making political decisions. At least at the outset, those who 
live in the steady state will therefore have to be genuinely political 
animals in Aristotle’s sense, self-consciously involved in designing and 
planning their community fife. 

Stewardship The character of economic fife will change totally. Ecol- 
ogy will engulf economics, and we shall move away from the values of 
growth, profligacy, and exploitation typical of “economic man” toward 
sufficiency, frugality, and stewardship. The last especially, at least in its 
minimal form of trusteeship, will become the cardinal virtue of ecologi- 
cal economics.To use the analogy of ecological succession, we shall move 

* The discussion in Box 29 suggests that there is thus considerable merit in 
agreeing politically on design criteria for the state that will minimize the scope of 
politics and political decision making thereafter. As a mode of politics, 
non-politics has considerable merit. 




Planning Versus Design 

There is a subtle and often overlooked but important distinction be- 
tween planning and design. Both are attempts to achieve a desired 
real-world outcome by influencing nature. Although the difference 
is sometimes obscure in practice, planning is the attempt to produce 
the outcome by actively managing the process y whereas design is the at- 
tempt to produce the outcome by establishing criteria to govern the 
operations of the process so that the desired result will occur more or less auto- 
matically without further human intervention . Because of the scale and 
complexity of human activities, planning inevitably requires large 
bureaucracies and active intervention in people’s lives. The Soviet 
Unions economic planning machinery was perhaps the most 
elaborate, but virtually all modern societies (to a considerable extent, 
even developing societies) are increasingly pervaded by the apparatus 
of planning. As a result, we have all become personally familiar with 
the inefficiencies, limitations, and costs of such cumbersome and 
bureaucratic social control. Thus the apparent need for even more 
planning to cope with the exigencies of ecological scarcity raises the 
frightening and repugnant prospect of minute and total daily super- 
vision of all our activities, in the name of ecology, by a ponderous 
and powerful bureaucratic machine, a veritable Orwellian Big 

However, this is not inevitable, for we can adopt a design ap- 
proach instead of a planning approach to the problematique of 
ecological scarcity. By self-consciously selecting and implementing a 
set of design criteria aimed at channeling the social process quasi- 
automatically within steady-state limits, we can avoid having con- 
stantly to plan, manage, and supervise. An example of such a design 
criterion comes from social critic Ivan Illich (1974a), who has 
proposed an absolute, across-the-board speed limit of 15 to 25 miles 
per hour — that is, the speed of a bicycle. Illich believes that adoption 
of this single proscription would eliminate most of the worst 
ecological and social consequences of high energy use without sub- 
jecting individuals to daily bureaucratic regulation. One can debate 
the merits of this particular proposal, but it nevertheless illustrates 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


how powerfully the adoption of a few simple (albeit drastic in terms of 
current values) design criterion could indeed have major social impacts 
sufficient to produce a steady-state society without also creating a Big 
Brother to supervise it. Another well-known example of a design ap- 
proach to solving environmental problems is economist Kenneth 
Bouldings proposal for achieving population control with marketable 
baby licenses, once the basic idea was accepted, the system would 
operate with minimal bureaucratic supervision, and people would be 
able to determine for themselves how to respond to the market pres- 
sures created by the licensing system (that is, they could have as many 
children as they wanted by buying additional licenses from those who 
wanted few or no children) (1964, pp. 135-136). The Clean Air Act of 
1990 adapts a design approach with a market option to sulfur dioxide 
emissions. The Act sets a cap on sulfur dioxide emissions for each utility 
company. If a utility seeks to increase its emissions over the cap, it must 
pay another utility to make an equivalent reduction. 

It should be evident that the design approach has substantial ad- 
vantages over planning, a point not lost on our founding fathers, who 
unconsciously favored a design strategy in establishing our system as a 
political and economic marketplace governed predominandy by laissez 
faire. Now, of course, these particular design criteria are inappropriate 
for our changed circumstances, so they must be exchanged for new 
ones, but it would seem wise to emulate our founding fathers in their 
preference for design over planning. 

It should also not be forgotten that design is nature s way. As a con- 
sequence of certain basic physical laws (the design criteria), natural sys- 
tems and cycles operate automatically to produce an integrated, har- 
monious, self-sustaining whole that evolves in the direction of greater 
biological richness and order, eventually reaching a climax that is the ul- 
timate expression of the design criteria. The essential task of the politi- 
cal and social philosopher of the steady state is therefore to devise 
design criteria that will be just as effective and compelling as those of 
nature in creating an organic and harmonious climax civilization but 
that are neither so ruthless nor so cruel. In other words, what are the 
humane alternatives to nature’s wars, plagues, and famines as design 
criteria for a steady state? 



from pioneer to climax economics; the rapid growth and exploitation of 
new possibilities typical of the pioneer stage will give way to a state of 
stable maturity in which maximum amenity is obtained from minimum 
resources, and energy is devoted primarily to maintenance of the current 
capital stock rather than to new growth. In short, quality will replace 
quantity, and husbandry will replace gain, as the prime motives of 
economic life. Learning to live with scarcity does not mean learning to 
live without. If the ideal of stewardship were more positively embraced, 
then, as numerous human ecologists have suggested, economic activities 
could be designed to “woo the earth” so that it would become a garden 
yielding beauty as well as ample subsistence (Dubos 1968). Approached in 
this spirit, the economics of the steady state, no matter how frugal and 
careful, need not involve joyless self-abnegation on the part of individuals, 
for they would be participating in what could be a deeply satisfying 
civilizational task. Yet it must be acknowledged that many people living 
today might not share this sanguine assessment of the potential for delight 
and self-fulfillment in a steady-state economy characterized by frugality. 

Modesty In the area of cultural norms the changes are less predictable. 
However, once the limitations nature imposes on people have become 
clearer, Faustian striving after power and “progress” should give way to 
modesty of both ends and means. One human ecologist describes the 
impending social change as one from tragedy to comedy (Meeker 1974): 
We shall abandon the tragic hero’s deadly serious and angst-ridden quest 
for greatness and new fields to conquer (which usually ends badly for 
himself and others) and learn instead cheerfully to enjoy the simple 
pleasures of ordinary life. The people inhabiting the future steady state 
could therefore be more relaxed, playful, and content than those living 
today, who must spend large amounts of energy constantly striving just to 
keep afloat in the waves of change that inevitably accompany rapid 
material growth. Moreover, although some profess to see the steady state 
as tantamount to rigor mortis, once the getting and spending of material 
wealth have ceased to be the prime determinant of status and self-esteem, 
the search for social satisfaction and personal fulfillment can turn toward 
the artistic, cultural, spiritual, intellectual, and scientific spheres — none of 
which are seriously confined by physical limitations. (Even space 
programs and other types of “big science” are possible in the steady state, 
provided the political will exists to expend scarce resources in this 
fashion.) In sum, there is no intrinsic reason why a steady-state society, 
despite its material frugality, should suffer from cultural stagnation, nor is 
there any reason why personal and cultural life should not be at least as 
rewarding as it is in today’s industrial civilization. But the rewards must 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


necessarily be rather different, for the culture of the steady state will 
certainly be far more frugal and modest than our own. 

Diversity The steady-state society should be less homogeneous and 
more culturally diverse than our own. As noted previously, the pressures 
of ecological scarcity urge upon us technological pluralism, some more 
labor-intensive modes of production, and smaller-scale enterprise 
adapted to local ecological realities. As a result, populations are likely to 
be spread more evenly over the land and to be more self-sufficient in the 
basic necessities. Thus extreme centralization and interdependence, 
which depend on high levels of energy use, should give way to greater 
decentralization, local autonomy, and local culture. The extent of the 
reversion to diversity and decentralization is unpredictable because, bar- 
ring a total collapse of technological civilization, the continued existence 
of modern communications is likely to forestall a return to the era when 
each locality was in effect a little country all its own. In addition, the kind 
of political and economic arrangements ultimately adopted will largely 
determine how far this process goes. That is, diversity, decentralization, 
and local autonomy seem to fit more naturally with some of the political 
and economic choices mentioned above than with others. For example, a 
decision in favor of a planned rather than a designed steady-state society 
would actually be a decision in favor of maximum standardization and 
central control. Nevertheless, the limitations on energy and material use 
in any conceivable steady state seem likely to lessen substantially the 
current high degree of homogenization, centralization, and interdepen- 

Holism Because the kind of one-dimensional thinking that created the 
crisis of ecological scarcity in the first place will no longer be tolerable, 
there will be a decisive movement away from scientific reductionism (the 
assumption inherited from Francis Bacon that nature is to be understood 
by dissecting it into its smallest constituent parts) toward holism, the 
contrary assumption that nature is best understood by focusing on the 
interrelationships that link all parts of the whole. In other words, what has 
been called the “systems paradigm” will become the dominant intellec- 
tual and epistemological mode; biology, or more specifically ecology, will 
replace physics as the master science. The effects of this intellectual 
inversion are likely to be profound. For example, embracing holism will 
tend to make thinkers generalists first and specialists second. More impor- 
tant, however, greater holism would alleviate many current social ills. 
Reductionist science has left most individuals psychologically adrift — by 
ruthlessly destroying older world views without putting anything in their 



place, by fragmenting the corpus of knowledge, and by alienating people 
from nature. A new synthesis based on a fuller understanding of the total 
ecology of the planet would go a long way toward making the average 
person feel at home in the universe once again. 

Morality Finally, the steady-state society will undoubtedly be charac- 
terized by genuine morality, as opposed to a purely instrumental set of 
ethics. It seems extremely unlikely, for example, that a real commitment 
to stewardship could arise out of enlightened self-interest; it will require 
a change of heart. But the same could be said about many of the other 
developments we have outlined. Indeed, the crisis of ecological scarcity 
can be viewed as primarily a moral crisis in which the ugliness and 
destruction outside us in our environment simply mirror the spiritual 
wasteland within; the sickness of the earth reflects the sickness in the soul 
of modern industrial individuals, whose whole lives are given over to 
gain, to the disease of endless getting and spending that can never satisfy 
their deeper aspirations and must eventually end in cultural, spiritual, and 
physical death. If this assessment is correct, then the new morality of the 
steady state must involve a movement from matter toward spirit, not 
simply in the sense that material pursuits and values will inevitably be 
deemphasized and restrained by self-interested necessity, but also in the 
sense that there will be a recovery or rediscovery of virtue and sanctity. 
We shall learn again that canons higher than self-interest and individual 
wants are necessary for people to live in productive harmony with 
themselves and with others. Thus the steady-state society, like virtually all 
other human civilizations except modern industrialism, will almost cer- 
tainly have a religious basis — whether it be Aristotelian political and civic 
excellence, Christian virtue, Confiician rectitude, Buddhist compassion, 
Amerindian love for the land, or an amalgam of these and other spiritual 

Post-modernity To sum up, ecological scarcity obliges us to abandon 
most basic modern values in favor of ones that resemble pre-modern 
values in many important respects. This does not mean that we shall 
simply revert to an earlier mode of existence, although this is what could 
happen if we fail to exercise forethought and self-restraint. Again using 
the analogy of ecological succession, it can be said that the very success of 
the industrial stage of civilizational succession has created conditions 
under which, to avoid a simple relapse into pre-modern civilization, we 
must move to a new, higher, more mature stage of post-industrial or 
post-modern civilization that shares many features of earlier civilizations 
while being something new in world history Thus the emergence of the 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


steady-state society will in one way or another bring the modern era to a 
close. It is now for us to decide whether we will accept the challenge 
implicit in the crisis of ecological scarcity by creating a genuinely post- 
modern civilization that combines the best of ancient and modern. 

The Roots of Wisdom: Political Philosophy 

Having seen what some of our choices on the path to the steady-state 
society might be, we come to the second and harder question: Where 
shall we find the wisdom to make such fateful choices and to guide us in 
the momentous enterprise of building a post-modern civilization? There 
is obviously no straightforward answer to this question, but there are 
some discernible avenues of approach. One is to make a profound study 
of the ills of industrial civilization. 

A logical starting point in this endeavor is ecological philosophy, the 
attempt to discover the larger meaning and practical lessons of human 
ecology. Although it engages throughout in ecological philosophy, this 
book emphasizes politics, and it must be complemented by the works of 
other writers who have asked nature how people can live in harmony 
with it.* 

The next step toward mastery of the problem is to study the work of 
contemporary radical social critics who judge the industrial paradigm 
from what could be called a post-industrial perspective."! That is, 
whatever the differences among them, they all examine the proudest 
successes of industrial civilization, such as science and development, and 
find them more or less pernicious. Accordingly, they propose not reforms 
but the creation of an entirely new post-industrial order. (Thus they do 

* See, for example, Dubos, R. So Human an Animal and A God Within ; 
Leopold, A. A Sand Country Almanac ; Shepard, P. and McKinley, D. The 
Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of Man; Nash, R. The Rights of Nature: 
A History of Environmental Ethics; Rolston, M. Environmental Ethics: Duties to and 
Values in the Natural World; Berry, T. The Dream of the Earth; Regan, T. ed., 
Earthbound: New Introductory Essays in Environmental Ethics; Scherer, D. ed., 
Upstream /Downstream; Wenz, P. Environmental Justice; and Milbrath, L. 
Envisioning a Sustainable Society. 

"! See, for example, Bookchin, M. Tlte Ecology of Freedom: Remaking Society; 
Roszak,T. The Making of a Counter Culture and Where the Wasteland £W5;Maslow, 
A. Tlte Psychology of Science and Tlte Farther Reaches of Human Nature; Illich, I. 
Deschooling Society , Tools for Conviviality , and Energy and Equity; Schumacher, E. 
Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered; and Mumford, L. The City in 
History and The Myth and the Machine. 



not simply repeat old criticisms. Their work looks forward, however 
much it may sometimes seem to hark back to the concerns of the earliest 
critics of the Industrial Revolution.) We must ponder unflinchingly the 
secular heresies of these post-industrial critics in order to liberate oursel- 
ves from inherited prejudices. 

As important as it is to analyze modern industrial civilization in the 
light of the crisis of ecological scarcity, it ought to be evident that the 
questions raised throughout this book are scarcely new but in fact are 
modern variations on ancient themes. This being the case, once we have 
understood those things that make us unique, we must expect to receive 
the greater part of our guidance from the past — particularly from political 
philosophy, the long and rich tradition of discourse that is concerned 
precisely with how people can best live in community. 

We have already seen that the values of a steady-state society would 
have to resemble pre-modern values in many important respects, but 
steady-state values bear a particularly uncanny resemblance to the ideas of 
the British conservative thinker Edmund Burke, the last great spokesman 
for the pre-modern point of view. For instance, the major tenet both of 
ecological philosophy and of Burke is trusteeship or, better yet, steward- 
ship. Burke wrote mainly about humanity’s social patrimony rather than 
its natural heritage, but from the nature of his reasoning it is clear that he 
meant both: The current generation holds the present as a patrimony in 
moral entail from its ancestors and must pass it on to posterity — im- 
proved if possible, but at all costs undiminished. Beyond this general 
overriding imperative, almost all of Burkes ideas resonate strongly with 
those of the ecological philosophers: 

General skepticism about the possibility of “progress” 

Awareness that the solution to one problem generates a new set of 

Acceptance of human limits and imperfections 

The need for organic change in order to preserve the balance and 
harmony of the whole social order 

The interdependence and thus mutual moral bondage of society 

The need to check aggressive self-interest, the contingent and 
situational nature of morality 

The inevitability and desirability of diversity among human beings 
both within societies and among societies 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


Progress as a gradual evolution toward what is immanent in a 
historical society 

The social order as part of, or as an outgrowth of, the natural order 

Politics as the balancing of many conflicting and equally legitimate 
claims to achieve for humanity the best possible state given the 
objective situation 

Burke also grasped the profound social implications of the Enlighten- 
ment and the Industrial Revolution. He foresaw, for example, that turning 
the direction of society over to “sophisters, economists, and calculators” (his 
epithets for the amoral capitalists who typified the new way of accumulating 
wealth) would destroy community, lead to the atomization of society, and set 
one person against another in an endless and self-destructive struggle for 
gain. He also saw that zeal for liberty and equality in the abstract would soon 
lead to the destruction of all the ‘Tittle platoons” (that is, the guilds, 
communes, and other intermediate corporate bodies) intervening between 
the individual and the state, so that individuals would eventually be left 
standing alone and defenseless before an all-powerful state that in theory 
represented their interests but in practice was largely beyond their control. As 
we have seen, both these issues are closely intertwined with our general 
analysis of ecological scarcity. 

Ecology broadly defined is thus a fundamentally conservative orien- 
tation to the world. Indeed, one biologist has called the climax state (the 
natural analog of the steady state) “a perennial feudal society” (McKinley 
1970). However, it by no means follows that we must adopt Burkes 
political doctrines. Rule by a landed aristocracy would be anachronistic 
at best and reactionary at worst. Yet in our search for a set of social and 
political ideas that correspond to an ecological world view, Burke will 
surely have much to teach us. 

Human ecology is also consonant with even older bodies of political 
thought, such as the classical tradition. In Book Two of his Republic, Plato 
says that although people need tools, some division of labor, and the 
like — in other words, a modest level of development — in order to live a 
civilized and humane life, they do not seem to know when to stop. Thus 
they overdevelop, and the consequences include luxury, vice, class strug- 
gle, war, and many other ills. To prevent this, says Plato, we must restrain 
people with wise rule by philosophers who know that what people desire 
is not always desirable for them and that true justice requires the estab- 
lishment of controls to maintain the balance and harmony of the whole. 
The classical tradition also distrusts technology: Just as excessive or 
uncontrolled economic development threatens to turn the direction of 



society over to monied interests and the vagaries of the market, so, too, 
uncontrolled technological change undermines politics, the rational (in 
the broadest sense) direction of human affairs, by turning social decisions 
over to the apparent imperatives of mere things. 

The more modern anarchist tradition may also contain valuable lessons, 
for decentralization, local autonomy, modesty, community, and other charac- 
teristics of the steady state seem favorable to developments in this direction. 
Indeed, to the extent that the environmental movement shares a common 
political ideology, it is predominantly anarchist. Moreover, the whole issue of 
a planned versus a designed steady state cuts so close to the central problem 
of anarchism that it is perhaps the most directly relevant body of theory for 
many of the critical issues raised in the preceding section. 

Western political philosophy taken as a whole contains many valu- 
able lessons. Let us examine briefly two of the most important and 
obvious ones. 

First, it is only a slight exaggeration to say that all political theory 
teaches the necessity of prudence, which Webster's Third New International 
tells us is a comprehensive term implying “a habitual deliberateness, 
caution, and circumspection in action,” further qualified as (1) “wisdom 
shown in the exercise of reason, forethought, and self-control,” (2) 
“sagacity and shrewdness in the management of affairs... shown in the 
skillful selection, adaptation, and use of means to a desired end,” (3) 
“providence in the use of resources,” and (4) “attention to possible 
hazard or disadvantage.” As the preceding discussion has amply demons- 
trated, the behavior of industrial civilization has been imprudent in the 
extreme. Unlike abundance, however, scarcity is extraordinarily in- 
tolerant of lapses in prudence, so this virtue must certainly be a part of 
the steady-state solution, regardless of the particular doctrinal and in- 
stitutional form it eventually takes. The lessons of prudence can of 
course be acquired in the school of hard knocks, but they are perhaps 
best learned from the great political theorists of the past (as well as the 
political historians, such as Thucydides and Tacitus, who have tradition- 
ally been read along with them) for whom prudence is the cardinal 
virtue of politics. 

A second indispensable political virtue is individual self-restraint. 
The Epigraph to this book, taken from Burke, explains why in the 
lucid prose for which he is famous. Reduced to its essentials, his 
argument states that 

Man is a passionate being. 

There must therefore be checks on will and appetite. 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


If these checks are not self-imposed, then they must be applied 
externally by a sovereign power. 

We have seen how this problem has surfaced again and again in our 
analysis — in the Hobbesian dynamics of the tragedy of the commons, in 
the consequences of accepting the Faustian bargain of nuclear technol- 
ogy, and so on. The essential political message of this book is that we must 
learn ecological self-restraint before it is forced on us by a potentially 
monolithic and totalitarian regime or by the brute forces of nature. We 
are currently sliding by default in the direction of one (or both) of these 
two outcomes. Only the restoration of some measure of civic virtue (to 
use the traditional term) can forestall this fate, and the necessary lessons in 
virtue are, again, better learned from political philosophy than from 
personal suffering. 

If we are to take political philosophy seriously again, we should 
broaden our perspective beyond the specifically Western tradition of 
political thought, for the political history and theory of other civilizations 
have much to teach us. For example, given the probable nature of the 
steady-state society, there is much in our own political tradition that 
seems to favor the revival of something like the classical city state. 
However, the Western political tradition never satisfactorily resolved the 
problem of keeping peace between city states. Thus it might be valuable 
to study the millet system of the Ottoman Empire, which granted the 
widest measure of local autonomy to individual cities and provinces 
while sfill providing them with peace and most of the other benefits of a 
larger political community. On the other hand, it might be argued that 
reversion to the city state is unrealistic given the numbers of people to be 
accommodated and the size of the territory to be governed. If so, then the 
history and political thought of agrarian societies — especially China from 
the Shang Dynasty to Mao — are worthy of the closest study. Similarly, 
feudal societies, whose resonance with ecology we have noted, should 
contain many important lessons; Westerners would do well to go beyond 
their own medieval history to study Tokugawa Japan, which existed in 
almost total autarky for several centuries yet supported (albeit frugally) a 
rather large population at a high cultural level. 

However, we must not expect political theory and history to provide 
us with specific solutions or even neatly packaged object lessons on what 
not to do. What is essential is that we once again approach politics from a 
philosophical perspective instead of grasping after easy answers that fit 
current prejudices. As Ivan Illich (1974b) says on the subject of our 
modern dependence on “energy slaves,” “The energy crisis focuses 
concern on the scarcity of fodder for these slaves. I prefer to ask whether 



free men need them.” Once — and if — we approach the totality of our 
problem with ecological scarcity from this perspective, asking the ques- 
tions that really need to be asked, then solutions informed by political 
wisdom will certainly emerge. 

Hie Roots of Wisdom: Ultimate Values 

Political philosophy alone is not enough. The wisdom to ask the right 
questions comes ultimately from so-called higher values, and all the great 
theorists of politics invoke them as an essential element in their political 
arguments. However, to assert the necessity of ultimate values in this day 
and age is heretical. Because scientific orthodoxy maintains that values 
have no epistemological standing, any statement that one value is to be 
preferred to another is therefore scientifically meaningless. But because 
science is our standard of social reality, value questions must not be 
socially meaningful either. Similarly, the modern liberal-democratic or- 
thodoxy holds that people have an inalienable right to create their own 
values; accordingly, any attempt to judge these values or replace them 
with others in the name of some nebulous ideological concept such as 
“the common interest” is taken as anti-liberal and ultimately fascist. Thus, 
to the ideologically committed scientist and democrat, all values are 
equal, and politics can be no more than the clash of personal and factional 
interest, moderated only slightly by some minimal ethical conceptions 
about what constitutes a just division of the spoils. Politics, therefore, 
comes to be devoted almost exclusively to the utilitarian satisfaction of 
desire or appetite, which, in the absence of any higher values, necessarily 
becomes the sole measure of individual and social good. The idea that 
public authority might exist in part to direct people toward virtuous ends 
becomes anathema. 

Yet wisdom, if only the rough and ready kind acquired by everyday 
living, tells us that not all values are equal and that virtue matters. In 
practice, science and democracy alike would be a shambles without the 
implicit values that govern them; indeed, “science” and “democracy” are 
themselves high-level values that generate the criteria by which 
utilitarian political decisions can be made in industrial civilization. We 
know too that the Protestant faith, even though it was not everywhere 
established, was the unofficial religion of the Industrial Revolution, 
providing a transcendental explanation of the human condition as well as 
justification for acquisitiveness and other bourgeois traits. Our founding 
fathers were motivated by deep religious faith to set up our political 
institutions “under God.” We used to have, in effect, a positive standard 
of right and virtue, one that still lingers on in an unconscious and 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


degenerate form. Thus we have had a value-based civic religion all along. 
We have simply never acknowledged it as such. 

Of course, civic religions are never easily changed, and resistance to 
turning politics once again into more than a mere clash of interests will 
be very high. We must also recognize that, given the litany of horrors that 
is human history, the widespread suspicion of values is not without 
foundation. Too many crimes have been committed by leaders and 
peoples who were convinced that they had God on their side. Moreover, 
it is not always an easy task to distinguish genuine needs, the satisfaction 
of which is essential to human well-being, from mere wants, the fulfill- 
ment of which is dispensable without real sacrifice. Nevertheless, how- 
ever difficult and controversial the task, we have no choice but to search 
for some ultimate values to inform the construct of a post-modern 
civilization. What follows is an effort to indicate what these values ought 
to be, but the discussion is even more condensed, tentative, general, and 
personal than the previous discussion of political values. It merely sug- 
gests that there is already remarkably widespread agreement on what an 
appropriate set of ultimate values ought to be under any circumstances 
and that these values favor a certain type of steady state. 

We noted earlier that the crisis of ecological scarcity is fundamentally 
a moral and spiritual crisis. In looking out at the ecological ruin we have 
made of the earth, we see what manner of people we have become. 
Worse, the degraded environment so impoverishes us spiritually that we 
are likely to cause further ecological ruin. But the point has been reached 
where such a vicious circle can no longer continue without serious 
consequences for humanity 7 . The earth is teaching us a moral lesson: The 
individual virtues that have always been necessary for ethical and spiritual reasons 
have now become imperative for practical ones. These virtues were pithily 
summarized in the fifth century B.C. by the Taoist sage Lao Tzu: 

Nature sustains itself through three precious principles, which one does 
well to embrace and follow. 

These are gentleness, frugality and humility [Chap. 67]. 

Implicit in gentleness, frugality, and humility are simplicity and 
closeness to nature. Walden, Henry David Thoreaus famous symbolic 
critique of an American society rapidly headed in the opposite direction, 
is an extended sermon on the necessity of natural simplicity as the only 
way to avoid living the quiedy desperate fives of those weighed down by 
striving for power, possessions, and position. Such simplicity does not 
mean rejection of all progress, as Thoreau makes clear in his chapter on 



Though we are not so degenerate but that we might possibly live in a cave 
or a wigwam or wear skins today, it certainly is better to accept the 
advantages, though so dearly bought, which the invention and industry of 
mankind offer. In such a neighborhood as this, boards and shingles, lime 
and bricks, are cheaper and more easily obtained than suitable caves, or 
whole logs, or bark in sufficient quantities, or even well-tempered clay or 
flat stones. I speak understanding^ on this subject, for I have made myself 
acquainted with it both theoretically and practically. With a little more unt 
we might use these materials so as to become richer than the richest now are, and 
make our civilization a blessing. The civilized man is a more experienced and unser 
savage [1854, p. 295, emphasis added]. 

It is of course quite obvious that development as we know it, in all its 
complexity, violence, prodigality and pride, is utterly noxious to these 
fundamental ethical-spiritual principles. The greatest sociologists and 
political economists would hardly disagree. In his classic work The Protes- 
tant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism , the renowned nineteenth-century 
German sociologist Max Weber foresaw the spiritual death that awaited 
an increasingly rationalized, bureaucratized society: “Specialists without 
spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a 
level of civilization never before attained” (cited in Burch 1971, p. 159). 
John Stuart Mill, one of the ablest and most ardent philosophical 
defenders of liberty and other bourgeois values, was nevertheless dis- 
tressed by “the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each 
others heels” that the relentless struggle to “get on” seemed inevitably to 
produce (1871, p. 748). Mill also foresaw that the long-term consequen- 
ces of development would be pernicious. 

If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes 
to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would 
extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, 
but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of 
posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity 
compels them to it [p. 751]. 

Even Adam Smith, perhaps the person most directly responsible for 
the materialistic and economic nature of modern civilization, clearly 
believed that one who pursued wealth was prey to vanity, greed, and 
other foolish and ignoble motives (1792, III-2). The eminent twentieth- 
century economist John Maynard Keynes, whose fame and influence 
ironically rest primarily on his prescriptions for keeping the engine of 
economic growth in high gear, was still more adamantly opposed to the 
values of “economic man.”* Noting that the whole long era of develop- 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


merit has “exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into 
the position of the highest virtues,” he hoped for its speedy end, so that 
men and women would once more be 

free. . .to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion 
and traditional virtue — that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is 
a misdemeanor, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most 
truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the 
morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good 
to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the 
hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are 
capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil 
not, neither do they spin [1971 , p. 192]. 

It follows from what these writers say (and from similar sentiments 
expressed by people of every age and tradition) that nothing of real value 
would be lost if development were to cease. Rather, the likelihood of 
men and women leading reasonably happy, sane, fulfilled, and harmonious 
personal lives would be enhanced.*!* Moreover, once the ultimately fruit- 
less and self-destructive quest for ever more private affluence was aban- 
doned, public amenity would be free to grow and to produce all the kinds 

Paradoxically, Keynes believed that because “foul is useful and fair is not,” we 
could not afford to abandon these values until we were out of “the tunnel of 
economic necessity” a hundred years hence-that is, until we had abolished 
scarcity. Even if this were possible, the problem with this qualification is that the 
tunnel is likely to be endless unless one leams to say, “Enough!” For growth 
simply produces more mouths and greater wants and is thus self-defeating. 
Furthermore, even Keynes suggested that economics be radically devalued 
during our passage through the tunnel. 

"** The available empirical evidence supports the position that economic 
development is largely irrelevant to personal happiness. Easterlin (1973) 
shows that people’s sense of economic well-being depends primarily on their 
relative standing. (Thus the American poor, most of whom are quite rich by 
any historical or comparative standard, nevertheless feel acutely deprived.) 
The popular demand for more growth is therefore largely motivated by a 
desire to keep up with (or catch up with) the Joneses. Unfortunately, this is a 
never-ending pursuit; a few Joneses will always pull ahead of the crowd and 
inspire emulation, so the package of goods that one needs to feel non-poor 
grows constantly. Relative equality and distributive justice thus seem more 
important for individual happiness and well-being than does the absolute 
level of production. 



of cultural riches people have been able to enjoy in the past, even if the 
gross quantity of production were less than it is today Indeed, social critic 
Lewis Mumford argues persuasively that the inhabitants of ancient Pom- 
peii, an ordinary Roman provincial town, enjoyed a quality of life 
superior in many important respects to that attainable in present-day 
California (1973, pp. 462-473). Nor should we forget the cultural glory 
of Athens, Florence, Kyoto, and other ancient centers of civilization 
whose achievements antedate the Industrial Revolution. Thus develop- 
ment appears to be virtually irrelevant to cultural richness and progress; 
social arrangements, not wealth in itself, seem to determine the level of 
social amenity.* In sum, “with a little more wit we might. . .become 
richer than the richest now are, and make our civilization a blessing.” 

The Minimal, Frugal Steady State 

The nature of the most desirable type of steady state should now be 
clear. We saw earlier that the attempt to achieve a high-throughput or 
maximum-feasible steady-state society involved a Faustian bargain 
fraught with dire political consequences. Now we see too that the 
maximum-feasible steady state, which aims at gratifying as far as 
possible the materialistic and hedonistic appetites of the populace, flies 
in the face of the lessons to be discovered in political philosophy and 
in the ethical-spiritual teachings of wise people of every age and 
tradition. In other words, political and spiritual wisdom alike urge the 
adoption of the minimal, frugal steady state as the form of a post- 
industrial society. 

Politically, a minimal steady state would, as its name implies, follow 
the favorite prudential maxim of our founding fathers: “That govern- 
ment is best that governs least.” Where this seems to lead is toward a 
decentralized Jeffersonian polity of relatively small, intimate, locally 

* The empirical evidence again supports the impressionistic judgment that 
when it comes to culture, bigger is not necessarily better. Some countries with 
no more than half the U.S. per capita consumption of energy actually outrank 
the United States statistically in important indicators of the quality of life, such 
as the rate of infant mortality and the number of persons per hospital bed, the 
number of books published per year per million persons, and even public 
expenditures for education as a percentage of national income (Watt 1974, 
Chap. 11). Of course, some minimum level of wealth is necessary for a 
reasonable level of comfort, but the level of production with appropriate 
technology in a steady-state society of reasonable population should be high 
enough to support moderate and judicious cultural aspirations. 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


autonomous, and self-governing communities rooted in the land (or 
other local ecological resources) and affiliated at the federal level only for 
a few clearly defined purposes. It leads, in other words, back to the 
original American vision of politics. Unlike mass society, such a minimal 
polity can place primary reliance on the inherent virtue of the citizen (or 
on the power of local public opinion to recall a straying citizen to her or 
his civic duty). This minimizes the perceived restrictions on individual 
freedom (in accordance with the principle of macro-constraint and 
micro-freedom described in Chapter 4, as well as the preference for 
design over planning expressed in Box 29). Of course, as is unfortunately 
true oi all forms of political association, such a polity also has its attendant 
dangers. Local tyranny is first among them. However, the tyranny cur- 
rently exercised over our lives by impersonal forces beyond any 
individuals capacity' to comprehend, much less control, is far greater; we 
are largely at the mercy of market forces, efficiency, technological change, 
radical monopoly (that is, our almost total dependence on the ministra- 
tions of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals), and so on. By 
contrast, local tyrants are highly visible and few in number, so that at least 
one would know against whom to revolt. Cities would still exist within 
this basically Jeffersonian polity, but they should be less of an instrument 
for exacting an economic surplus from the countryside than they are 
now. Eventually they would probably come to resemble the pre-modern 
city state in size and spirit, a highly desirable development if the countless 
historians and political philosophers who have praised this organic form 
of political and social community are to be believed.* The minimal, frugal 
steady state would thus predominantly consist of medium sized com- 
munities and rural areas, but through modern communications, what 
Karl Marx called the idiocy (the political, social, and cultural uncon- 
sciousness) of rural life should be avoidable. 

* As we noted before, an alternative to the city state as a primary model of 
political association is the agrarian empire, which has certain undeniable virtues 
and some correspondingly large drawbacks, as Maoist China seems to have 
shown. Nevertheless, given the large numbers of people in the world and the 
realities of international politics, a degree of international decentralization, 
decoupling, and autarky sufficient to support Jeffersonian politics at the local 
level may simply be unattainable. However, any form of minimal steady-state 
society would have to be supported by a large measure of international 
decentralization, decoupling, and autarky, for the current degree of 
interdependence is politically destabilizing and economically disruptive. It 
amplifies and universalizes problems instead of solving them, and it generates 
strong pressures toward political centralization. 



In economics, too, less is better. The goal is frugality, which means 
neither poverty nor abundance, but rather an ample sufficiency. The 
governing principle of economic life in a minimal, frugal steady state 
would be “right livelihood” (Schumacher 1973, pp. 50-58). Honest work 
from which one can derive satisfaction (not simply a wage), a sense of 
working in community with and for ones fellows, and an opportunity to 
develop ones native talents for the benefit of self and others are just as 
important as enough income for a decent and dignified material exist- 
ence. This view of economics does not reject productivity or technology 
in itself, but it does demand that the value and dignity of human labor be 
restored and that the economy be run “as if people mattered.” Following 
these prescriptions would inevitably promote small-scale, self-sufficient, 
virtually self-administering, locally oriented and controlled enterprise 
that depends on simple, inexpensive, more labor-intensive means of 
production that are ecologically appropriate. All of this should put in- 
dividuals back in charge of their own economic destiny and produce a 
frugal economy compatible with the minimal polity we have described. 

Although in our search for a suitable civil religion we certainly ought 
to cast our net as widely as possible, it by no means follows that we must 
convert to Taoism or other seemingly alien faiths political, economic, or 
religious. As we have seen, the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson 
can supply a large part of the ideological foundation for a minimal, frugal 
steady state. What is lacking may be found in the ideas of Thoreau and all 
the other “literary” critics of American civilization, such as Melville and 
Whitman, who chided us for following a path that must eventually lead 
to the betrayal of our basic principles.* Moreover, although much in 
Christianity has rightly been found by critics (for example, Roszak 1973) 
to be ecologically objectionable (in that nature is not viewed as sacred 
and humans are given dominion over creation), others point out that 
stewardship and other Christian virtues could easily form the basis of an 
ecological ethic. The historian Lynn White, for example, though generally 
critical of Christianity, nevertheless sees St. Francis of Assisi, who wor- 
shiped nature and preached absolute identification and harmonious 
equality with the rest of creation, as a potential “patron saint of ecology” 
(1967). The ecological philosopher Rene Dubos, on the other hand, 
prefers St. Benedict of Nursia, because he did not merely love nature but 
also founded an order of monks who worked with the natural environ- 

* Historian Leo Marx’s excellent essay “American Institutions and Ecological 
Ideals’’ (1970) shows how the literary and ecological critiques of American 
society have merged. 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


ment to create beautiful, productive, and harmonious landscapes, thus 
translating the ideal of stewardship into physical actuality (1972, Chap. 8). 
By contrast, economist E. E Schumacher prefers to focus not on a 
particular figure but on the “Four Cardinal Virtues” of Christianity — 
pmdentia, justitia, fortitudo , and temperantxa — which would, if observed, 
almost automatically produce a minimal, frugal steady-state society 
(1974). Christian leaders in the United States are even today developing 
a new “green gospel”; the Baptist, United Methodist, Congregational, 
and Presbyterian churches have produced policy statements on the en- 
vironment. Individual leaders of the Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Protes- 
tant faiths have been developing links between ecology and theology. 
Thus self-renewal or self-transformation based primarily on native 
American and Western principles is eminently possible, for the minimal 
and frugal steady state is in complete accords with the best in our own 

The Grand Opportunity 

Other visions of the minimal, frugal steady state are possible, but the 
foregoing should suggest that feelings of despair and impotence are not 
appropriate responses to the crisis of ecological scarcity. True, the transi- 
tion to any conceivable form of steady-state society is likely to be 
wracking and painful, but some measure of destruction is a precondition 
of rebirth, and the industrial era was a necessary but in many respects ugly 
and disagreeable phase in human history that we should rejoice to put 
behind us. Moreover, if we act wisely and soon, the transition need not 
involve unbearable sacrifices or frightful turmoil. Indeed, we are con- 
fronted not with the end of the world (although it will surely be the end 
of the world as we have known it) but with an unparalleled opportunity 
to share in the creation of a new and potentially higher, more humane 
form of post-industrial civilization. But we must not delay, for unless we 
begin soon, an ugly and desperate transition to tyrannical version of the 
steady state may become almost inevitable. 

A Politics of Transformation 

Seizing this grand opportunity will require a politics of transformation. 
Metanoia is tantamount to religious conversion and is therefore not easily 
achieved. As in the revolutionary eras of the past, inspirational leadership 
will be needed to steer us clear of anarchy and chaos during the transi- 
tion. The critical question is whether such leadership will be provided, on 
the one hand, by a “man on horseback” or Big Brothers Ministry of 



Propaganda or, on the other, by a Gandhi or a group of Jeffersonian 
“natural aristocrats” resembling those who founded the American 
Republic. Unfortunately, the breadth of mind and nobility of character 
typical of the latter are hard to find these days, for our institutions are 
designed to turn out experts and other brilliant mediocrities whose 
distinguishing characteristic is what Thorstein Veblen called a “trained 
incapacity” to see beyond their professional blinders. Even those who 
avoid this pitfall often cling to the past. Few even entertain the idea that 
many of the Enlightenment values central to modern civilization, such as 
reliance on reductionist information acquired through endless schooling, 
might have to be discarded. What therefore typically emerges is a call for 
change in general that ignores most of the critical issues or, what is worse, 
a call for change in the other fellow that implies little real change in, or 
commitment from, the would-be leader. But this cannot be effective; 
only leaders who have themselves fully embraced the future can provide 
inspirational leadership. Next to the sheer lack of time in the face of 
onrushing events, the paucity of genuine leaders is probably our most 
serious obstacle to a better and more humane future. 

People of Intemperate Minds Cannot Be Free 

Leadership is only part of the politics of transformation, for even the most 
inspired leaders can do only so much. We as individuals must also stop 
clinging to the past and embrace the future, accepting our personal 
responsibility for helping to make this vision of a more beautiful and 
joyful steady-state future come true. Like charity, transformation begins at 

Above all, we must somehow learn the essential lesson of the crisis of 
ecological scarcity. In the words of Edmund Burke, “men of intemperate 
minds cannot be free,” for their passions do indeed “forge their fetters.” 
It is not that nature has made scanty provision for our wants; natures 
economy is generous and plentiful for those who would live modestly 
within its circle of interdependence. It is our numbers and our wants that 
have outrun nature’s bounty. If we will not freely and joyfully place 
“moral chains” on our will and appetite, then we shah abdicate to the 
brute forces of nature or to a political Leviathan what should be our own 
moral duty. Because even nature’s bounty can be exhausted by the 
infinitude of human wants, only a life of self-restraint and simple suf- 
ficiency in natural harmony with the earth will allow us and our descen- 
dants to continue to enjoy life, liberty, and estate. Having freely chosen 
such a life, we shall find that it has its own richness, for we become rich 
precisely to the degree to which we eliminate violence, greed, and pride 

Toward a Politics of the Steady State 


from our lives. When we have rediscovered this primordial wealth, we 
shall see something the wise have always known: The greatest value of the 
earth is, always has been, and always will be not that it is useful but that it 
is beautiful — and that it simply is. 


Rereading Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity 14 years after its initial 
publication brings a sad awareness: Despite the existence of a vast litera- 
ture on ecology and environmental problems, several decades of political 
activism in support of environmental causes, and considerable govern- 
ment activity to redress environmental wrongs, both domestically and 
internationally, very little has changed in humankind s relationship to its 
natural milieu. Nature is still seen as either a mine or a dump and is 
treated accordingly. The basic laws of ecology are ignored, denied, and 
flouted, and humanity continues to hasten down the path to ecological 
perdition. Thus the concerns of Earthday 1990 differed hardly at all from 
those of Earthday 1970. Everywhere on the planet, we can observe more 
and more people making more and more demands on their environ- 
ment — demands that lead to an inexorable drawdown of finite resources, 
an acceleration of biological extinction and habitat destruction, and an 
increase in environmental pollution and stress. In short, the planet has 
grown steadily more crowded, and its physical condition continues to 
deteriorate alarmingly. Many large areas, such as Eastern Europe, have 
become acknowledged environmental disaster zones. And the social 
degradation that results when human demands outrun natural capacities 
has increased markedly. 

Nor has there been a significant shift in the appetite of modern 
civilization for more material wealth defined in terms of “affluence.” 
Populations continue to demand “prosperity” and “progress” above all. 
Political leaders who try to talk ecological sense to their constituents are 
likely to suffer the consequences (witness the anger and disdain that 
greeted President Carters mention of limits). Thus, although the in- 
creased media attention focused on environmental matters during the 




past two decades has certainly promoted greater ecological awareness, 
along with the nagging suspicion that we must one day mend our 
profligate ways, the watchword of industrial civilization continues to be 
what it has been since its inception: “Apres nous le deluge.” 

Rereading the previous edition after a lapse of many years also makes 
me aware that much has changed. Many of the facts recorded there are 
now out of date or even erroneous, and certain of my specific opinions 
were clearly mistaken. At the time of writing, for example, it seemed that 
an age of massive dependence on nuclear power was virtually inevitable, 
but a number of factors (principally energy conservation) have sharply 
reduced the need for new generating capacity. Of course, the warnings of 
environmental critics, myself included, were instrumental in mobilizing 
public opinion against nuclear power, so our prophecies of doom by 
radiation became, in effect, self-denying — an occupational risk that all 
who deal with the future willingly run. I am therefore deeply grateful to 
Professor Boyan for preparing this revised edition and to the publishers 
for making the work available to a new generation of readers. 

Nevertheless, with all due respect for the labor that such updating 
entails, what is important in this work is not particular facts but rather the 
essence of the argument, which is unchanged. It may be that the supply 
of fossil fuels is more ample now than it was 15 years ago — though at 
what political and economic cost? — or that population growth has 
declined in some areas of the world faster than originally projected. But 
for each fact I viewed too pessimistically before, there is another I saw 
with too much optimism. For example, the extent and rate of rain-forest 
destruction has accelerated, both from commercial logging and land 
hunger, and we now understand in more depth the high price we will pay 
for its loss. Similarly acid rain, which was scarcely mentioned in the first 
edition, now looms as a very large and intractable problem noxious to the 
health of both natural environments and human populations. In other 
words, the changes in particulars over the past 20 years have at best 
canceled each other out, allowing the pervasive trend toward ecological 
scarcity to continue unchecked. 

In addition, the human mind tends to assign too much importance to 
the latest news from the environmental front, especially when it is 
dramatic or threatening. It thereby overlooks or underestimates the real 
dangers and their root causes. Thus, for instance, the Exxon Valdez oil spill 
in Prince William Sound generated far more concern than it really 
warranted in the overall ecological scheme of things. Nature copes 
relatively well with isolated insults, but it succumbs over the long term to 
the slow and steady assault of chronic pollution, which lacks the high 
visibility of an oil spill. 



Moreover, certain apparently grave problems may well be taken 
care of by natural feedback mechanisms. For example, many believe 
that the extraordinary fauna of Africa is all but doomed by population 
pressure, which is the underlying cause of poaching, fencing, and 
habitat destruction. It now appears, however, that a tragic and classical- 
ly Malthusian combination of famine and diseases, such as malaria and 
AIDS, will apocalyptically reduce this continent’s population, with 
humanity’s loss being the animals’ gain. Similarly, although the threat 
of global warming is real, and the eventual outcome may be as grim as 
some predict, this is by no means certain. Hidden feedback me- 
chanisms of which we are currently unaware may sop up the excess 
carbon dioxide, resulting in no discernible change in climate despite 
greatly increased emissions, and it is even conceivable that these same 
feedback mechanisms could, by increasing the formation of clouds, 
induce significant global cooling in the next century. (Various acts of 
God, such as extensive vulcanism, or of man, such as nuclear war, 
would also result in cooling.) In short, basing the ecological case on 
particulars — no matter how dramatic, menacing, or “scientific” — is 
bad strategy. 

The appropriate strategy is to place particular environmental 
events in the context of the fundamental ecological dynamics that 
underlie them. Facts and opinions may change, but basic laws and 
principles, such as the laws of thermodynamics, do not. These laws tell 
us clearly that the planet has a limited carrying capacity and that, like 
every other creature, we will soon have to find some way to survive 
within that capacity. In other words, we must learn to live on our 
biological income, for we cannot continue to squander capital without 
becoming ecological paupers. We need to pay primary attention to the 
forces that create ecological scarcity. It will then be clear why seeming 
improvements in our situation, such as the discovery of larger supplies 
of fossil fuel, are strictly temporary and why almost all of our attempts 
to evade ecological limits are bound to be self-defeating in the long 

Similar remarks apply to the political discussion in Parts II and III. 
The core of the argument is that because the basic premises of modern 
industrial civilization are anti-ecological, all its values, practices and 
institutions are grossly maladapted to the emerging age of scarcity The 
transition from abundance to scarcity will consequently be extremely 
difficult and painful, for what is required is a revolution in thought and 
action. The suffering will be especially severe in the United States, 
because American politics is predicated on cornucopian abundance. Our 
political institutions were designed for the easy job of dividing the rich 



spoils of an almost virgin continent, not for the much harder task of 
allocating scarce resources. In this light, the details of environmental 
policy and of the political infighting that surrounds it are not of primary 
importance. What is crucial is to understand the fundamental nature of 
the underlying dynamic. 

Unfortunately, my argument has sometimes been misinterpreted as 
Hobbesian in spirit, so a few words to guide the reader are in order. As I 
said in the Preface to the previous edition, my intention was never to 
offer solutions, much less the solution, to our political-ecological predica- 
ment. If I used Hobbes extensively in the analysis, it was because he is, to 
echo Marxs homage, “the father of us all” — that is, the author of the 
basic political theory underlying all forms of modern politics, capitalist 
and socialist alike. His thought therefore reveals most clearly the pro- 
found tensions and contradictions implicit in this theory of politics. In 
addition, Hardin’s analysis of the tragedy of the commons unknowingly 
replicated Hobbes, and Hardin's solution was indeed explicidy Hobbesian. 
Thus, although I expanded on Hardin’s argument and suggested various 
ways in which an ecological Leviathan might be tamed, I never offered 
this as my own solution. (In the same manner, I used Burke, Plato, 
Rousseau, Saint-Simon, and other theorists to elucidate the issues we now 
confront, not to provide ready answers.) When in the final chapter I did 
permit myself to suggest the direction in which we should look for 
humane long-term answers, the tenor of the discussion was explicitly 

The essential political message of this book is that we must learn ecologi- 
cal self-restraint before it is forced on us by a potentially monolithic and 
totalitarian regime or by the brute forces of nature. We are currently 
sliding by default in the direction of one (or both) of these two outcomes. 
Only the restoration of some measure of civic virtue (to use the traditional 
term) can forestall this fate.... 

Moreover, it can hardly be accidental that the book’s epigraph, drawn 
from Burke, urges self-restrained control of will and appetite or that the 
final paragraph reprises Burke’s theme. The overall spirit of the work is 
therefore far from Hobbesian. 

In sum, far from being the solution, Hobbes is rather the essence of 
the problem. The current environmental problematique is a direct 
outgrowth of the system of individualistic and economic politics that 
evolved out of the social contract theory elaborated in Leviathan. Thus we 
shall not begin to deal with our problems constructively until we ac- 
knowledge that we must reassess our whole world view and way of life. 



Reforms intended merely to sustain the current political system will only 
deepen the crisis in the long run and, what is worse, feed the forces that 
are already pushing us in the direction of Leviathan.* 

Nevertheless, I now see that I could have made the reader’s task 
easier by employing Alexis de Tocqueville s all-important distinction 
between government and administration. No human group can exist 
without government — that is, without a fundamental agreement 
among its members on how their communal life is to be regulated. On 
the other hand, human beings can get along quite well without 
administration. So-called primitive tribes dispense with it entirely 
(leading some early observers to conclude, erroneously, that these 
tribes had no politics). Conversely, it is possible to have a polity that is 
all administration and little or no government. Such was the unhappy 
plight of the former Soviet Union: A monstrous bureaucratic ap- 
paratus refused to die, while the political spirit that once gave it life 
and meaning was all but extinguished. Alas, we in the United States 
have also moved quite far in the direction of the administrative state, 
and our governing spirit too burns much less brightly than before. 
Thus it is not surprising that my critique, which could be mis- 
understood as providing the rationale for an even bigger and more 
coercive administrative state, would alarm some readers. 

If we use de Tocqueville s language, however, matters become much 
clearer. We desperately need more government — that is, stronger checks 
on the competitive overexploitation of the ecological commons and 
therefore on human self-aggrandizement. But it does not necessarily 
follow from this that we need more administration. On the contrary, or 
so it seems to me, given the appalling record of the administrative state in 
this century, the better solution is to be found in the other direction. We 
need a form of government that is effective in obliging humankind to live 
within its ecological means but that does not require us to erect an 
ecological Leviathan (which, as many of my critics rightly pointed out, 
simply would not work in the long run). This is why I championed 
design over planning (Box 32) and macro-constraints in the service of 
micro-freedoms (Box 24). Similarly, I suggested (Box 25) that the new 
form of government would have to be based on an “ecological contract” 
to ensure that a basic harmony between man and nature was at the core 

* I describe these forces in a work in progress entitled Moribund Liberalism: 
The Tragedy of Enlightenment Politics, which explores the contradictions and 
self-destructive tendencies of modern politics and traces them back to 
Hobbes’s fundamental error, believing that politics could ever be separated 
from virtue. 



of politics.* I also pointed out (Chapter 8) that the most critical need is 
for a change of heart, or “metanoia,” because until we have embraced an 
ecological ethos, we cannot possibly have a genuinely ecological politics. 

It should now be apparent why those among my critics who believe 
that democratic activism within the current system is the solution to our 
environmental problematique are almost certainly mistaken. Unless the 
system is fundamentally restructured, “more democracy” cannot be ef- 
fective. This is not to say that environmental pressure groups cannot be 
effective in preventing this or that ecological atrocity, but isolated vic- 
tories are not enough to deflect the drive for development at the expense 
of nature. Moreover, although people who see the answer in political 
activism may be noble champions of the democratic ideal, they do not 
seem to appreciate what they are up against. The trouble with interest- 
group politics is that, for all the reasons outlined in Chapters 5 and 6, 
special interests are bound to be victorious over the common interest in 
the long run. The prospect of the ecological interest somehow prevailing 
over the commercial, financial, and manufacturing interests whose 
money pays the media pipers and finances the electoral process is there- 
fore remote, to say the least. (Paradoxically, the more successful environ- 
mental interest groups are, the more they begin to resemble other interest 
groups and the more they necessarily collaborate in an established politi- 
cal process that is both fundamentally anti-ecological and increasingly 
anti-democratic.) In short, as I said in the final chapter, “environmental 
politicking within the system can only be a rear-guard holding action 
designed to slow the pace of ecological retreat” (p. 282). 

Those who rely on “more democracy” within the current political 
context also commit the grave error of confusing “interest-group 
liberalism” with genuine democracy. Nothing could be further from the 
truth. Our current political system is statist, not democratic. The federal 
government is a bureaucratic and electoral behemoth dedicated to one 
primary end: the satisfaction of human appetite at the expense of nature. 
Popular participation, such as it is, is token, minimal, symbolic; and the 
behemoth is largely beholden to organized and monied interests. 
Genuine democracy, by contrast, is self- government, and self-government 

* In retrospect, even though it is an obvious play off social contract ; the phrase 
ecological contract was not apt. Contract is a commercial concept, and by using it, 
Hobbes was (knowingly or unknowingly) creating a polity in which the 
economic motive would predominate to the detriment of other values. Thus 
the appropriate term would have been ecological covenant; both the denotation 
and the connotations of covenant suggest the very different spirit that must 
underlie an ecological political order. 



requires two things: a population that is willing and able to restrain its 
own appetites for the sake of the common good and a social and 
economic structure that is amenable to, and indeed fosters, popular 
understanding and local control. Neither of these conditions now exists 
in the United States. Thus, I too believe that democracy can be part of the 
long-term solution to our ecological predicament, but only if it is 
genuine democracy — democracy that is fundamentally Jeffersonian and 
Thoreauvian in spirit and practice. It is, in fact, precisely toward such an 
ecological democracy that most of the final chapter points. 

In sum, therefore, those who see in this work an anti-democratic 
justification for increased state power to enforce ecological imperatives 
have fundamentally misunderstood the argument. Instead, I raise and 
explore the political contradictions of the current system in the light of 
ecology and then point toward a political order that would be both more 
ecologically sound and more truly democratic than our current one. I 
trust that, read in this spirit, my work remains a useful and important 
critique of the American political system, as well as a significant contribu- 
tion to the intensifying debate over man’s place in nature and long-term 

I regret to say, however, that I am now less inclined than before to 
believe that we will respond positively to the ecological challenge. Then, 
I saw us confronted with a grand opportunity to create a more humane 
future, and I believed that the transition to a more ecologically en- 
lightened world view had already begun. But we have frittered away the 
two decades since the first Earthday without seizing this grand oppor- 
tunity. To the extent that we have acted other than symbolically, we have 
spent the last 20 years doing all the easiest and least painful things. Now 
we must do the hard things: reshape basic attitudes and expectations, alter 
established lifestyles, and restructure the economy accordingly. But rather 
than adopt ecological principles for public policy, we seem to do every- 
thing we can to avoid facing up to the inevitability of limits and of 
changing our profligate way of life. In other words, time has grown 
shorter and the problems have become larger and more entrenched, but 
our resistance to dealing with them constructively has increased. 

Worse, the end of the Cold War, far from bringing about an era of 
universal peace, has made the world a more complex, unstable, and 
dangerous place than it was a decade ago. History has reawakened from 
nearly a half-century of hibernation. Long-frozen political, ethnic, and 
religious passions have thawed, and the economic struggle both for 
markets and for resources has simultaneously heated up. The depressing 
prospect is for widespread conflict and turmoil in many areas of the globe. 
Preoccupation w T ith geopolitical advantage, military realignments, and 



economic competitiveness seems likely to preempt the policy agenda in 
the coming decade — hardly the best political environment for making 
thoughtful and far-sighted decisions about a human future based on 
ecological harmony 

Nevertheless, I have by no means lost heart or hope, and I continue 
to work for the benefit of the Earth and the life it bears, as well as for the 
posterity that has never done anything for me. I urge the reader to do the 
same. Together we may make a difference. 

William Ophuls 
January 1992 

Suggested Readings 


Bookchin, Murray 

1990 “Death of a Small Planet.” in Environment 90/91. Reprinted from The Progres- 
sive , August 1989, pp. 19-23, ed. John Allen (Guilford, Connecticut: The 
Dushkin Publishing Group). 

Borrelli, Peter 

1989 “Environmental Ethics — the Oxymoron of Our Time,” The Amicus Journal, 
Summer, 39-43. 

Global Tomorrow Coalition 

1990 The Global Ecology Handbook, ed. Walter H. Corson (Boston: Beacon Press). 
McRuer,John D. 

1990 “Conventions vs. Greens.” World, March- April, 5-6, 63. 

Montagna, Donald 

1991 Interview , 27 July. 


Barker, Ernest, trans. and ed. 

1 952 The Politics of Aristotle (New York: Oxford) . 

Boulding, Kenneth E. 

1961 Tl\e Image (Ann Arbor: Michigan) . 

1964 The Meaning of the Twentieth Century: The Great Transition (New York: Harper 
and Row). 

1966 “Is Scarcity Dead?” Public Interest 5:36-44. 

1970 “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth,” in his Beyond 
Economics: Essays on Society, Religion and Ethics (Ann Arbor: Michigan), pp. 

Brown, Harrison 

1954 The Challenge of Man's Future (New York: Viking). 




Cole, H. S. D., et al., eds. 

1973 Models of Doom: A Critique of The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe). 
Dubos, Rene 

1969 “A Social Design for Science,” Science 166:823. 

1972 A God Within (New York: Scribner’s). 

Durrenberger, Robert W. 

1970 Environment and Man: A Bibliography (Palo Alto: National). 

Geertz, Clifford 

1966 Agricultural Involution (Berkeley: California). 

Glacken, Clarence J. 

1956 “Changing Ideas of the Habitable World”, in Thomas 1956, pp. 70-92. 
Goldsmith, Edward, et al. 

1972 “A Blueprint for Survival,” Ecologist 2(1): 1—43. 

Hardin, Garrett 

1959 Nature and Man's Fate (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston). 

, ed. 

1969 Population, Evolution, and Birth Control: A Collage of Controversial Ideas (2nd ed.; 
New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Hume, David 

1739 A Treatise of Human Nature, in Theory of Politics, ed. Frederick Watkins (New 
York: Nelson, 1951). 

Jacob, Francois 

1974 The Logic of Life: A History of Heredity, trans. Betty E. Spillman (New York: 

Kuhn, Thomas S. 

1970 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd ed.; University of Chicago Press). 
Malthus, Thomas Robert 

1798 Essay on the Principle of Population As It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, 
reprinted as First Essay on Population, 1198 (New York: Kelley, 1965). 

1830 “A Summary View of the Principle of Population,” in Three Essays, on Popula- 
tion, ed. Frank W. Notestein (New York: New American Library). 

Marsh, George Perkins 

1864 Man and Nature, ed. David Lowenthal (Cambridge: Harvard, 1965). 

Meadows, Donella H., et al. 

1972 The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe). 

1982 Groping in the Dark: The First Decade of Global Modelling (New York: 

Mesarovic, Mihajlo, and Eduard Pestel 

1974 Mankind at the Turning Point: The Second Report to the Club of Rome (New York: 
Dutton/Reader’s Digest). 

National Research Council 

1989 Alternative Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press). 

Ornstein, Robert E. 

1972 The Psychology of Consciousness (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Osborn, Fairfield 

1948 Our Plundered Planet (Boston: Little, Brown). 

Pearce, Joseph C. 

1973 The Crack in the Cosmic Egg: Challenging Constructs of Mind and Reality (New 
York: Simon and Schuster). 

Chapter 1 


Polak, Frederik L. 

1961 The Image of the Future (New York: Oceana). 

Seaborg, Glenn T. 

1970 “The Birthpangs of a New World,” The Futurist 4:205-208. 

Sears, Paul B. 

1935 Deserts oti the March (Norman: Oklahoma). 

1971 Letter to Science 174:263. 

Thomas, William L.,Jr., ed. 

1956 Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth (University of Chicago Press). 
Vogt, William 

1948 Road to Survival (New York: William Sloane). 

Wolin, Sheldon S. 

1968 “Paradigms and Political Theories,” in Politics and Experience, ed. Preston King 
and B. C. Parekh (Cambridge, Eng.: University Press), pp. 125-152. 

1969 “Political Theory as a Vocation,” American Political Science Review 63:1062- 

Woodhouse, Edward J. 

1972 “Re- visioning the Future of the Third World: An Ecological Perspective on 
Development,” World Politics 25:1-33. 

World Commission on Environment and Development. 

1987 Our Common Future (New York: Oxford University Press). 

Chapter 1 

Adams, M. W., A. H. Ellingboe, and E. C. Rossman 

1971 “Biological Uniformity and Disease Epidemics,” BioScience 21:1067-1070. 


1968 “Ecology: The New Great Chain of Being,” Natural History 77(10):8-16, 

Armillas, Pedro 

1971 “Gardens on Swamps,” Science 174:653-661. 

Bates, Marston 

1960 The Forest and the Sea (New York: Vintage). 

1969 “The Human Ecosystem,” in Resources and Man, ed. Preston Cloud for 
National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council (New York: W. H. 
Freeman and Co.), pp. 21-30. 

Benson, Robert L. 

1971 “On the Necessity of Controlling the Level of Insecticide Resistance in Insect 
Populations,” BioScience 21:1160-1 165. 

Blackburn, Thomas R, 

1973 “Information and the Ecology of Scholars,” Science 181:1141-1146 [contains 
an excellent summary of ecosystem thermodynamics with references to 
original sources]. 

Cloud, Preston 

1974 “Evolution of Ecosystems,” American Scientist 62:54-66. 

Colinvaux, Paul A. 

1973 Introduction to Ecology (New York: Wiley). 

Commoner, Barry 

1971 The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology (New York: Knopf). 



Dansereau, Pierre 

1966 “Ecological Impact and Human Behavior,” in Future Environments of North 
America, ed. F. Fraser Darling and John P. Milton (Garden City: Natural 
History Press), pp. 425-461. 

Dasmann, Raymond F.,John P. Milton, and Peter H. Freeman 

1973 Ecological Principles for Economic Development (London: Wiley). 

Davis, James Sholto 

1973 “Forest-Farming: An Ecological Approach to Increase Natures Food Produc- 
tivity,” Impact of Science on Society 23(2): 117-132. 

Dixon, Bernard 

1974 “Lethal Resistance,” New Scientist 61:732. 

Egerton, Frank N. 

1973 “Changing Concepts of the Balance of Nature,” Quarterly Review of Biology 
48:322-350 [a historical review showing that nature is both very stable and 
ever-changing] . 

Emlen, J. Merritt 

1973 Ecology: An Evolutionary Approach (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley). 

Farvar, M. Taghi, and John P. Milton, eds. 

1968 The Careless Technology: Ecology and International Development (Garden City: 
Natural History Press). 

Fla wn, Peter T. 

1970 Environmental Geology: Conservation, Land-Use Planning, and Resource Manage- 
ment (New York: Harper and Row). 

Gomez-Pompa, A., C. Vazquez- Yanes, and S. Guevara 

1972 “The Tropical Rain Forest: A Nonrenewable Resource,” Science 177:762-765. 
Hardin, Garrett 

1966 Biology: Its Principles and Implications (2nd ed.; New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 
Hirst, Eric 

1974 “Food-Related Energy Requirements,” Science 184:134-138. 

Kolata, Gina Bari 

1974 “Theoretical Ecology: Beginnings of a Predictive Science,” Science 183:400- 

Kormoridy, Edward J. 

1969 Concepts of Ecology (Englewood Clifls: Prentice-Hall). 

Kucera, Clair L. 

1973 The Challenge of Ecology (St. Louis: Mosby). 

McHarg, Ian 

1971 Design with Nature (Garden City: Natural History Press). 

Margalef, Ramon 

1968 Perspectives in Ecological Theory (University of Chicago Press). 

Menard, H.W. 

1974 Geology, Resources, and Society: An Introduction to Earth Science (New York: W.H. 
Freeman and Co.). 

“Monsanto Experiment Seeks Herbicide-Resistant Plant” 1988 T7ie Washington Post, May 
17, Cl. 

Mott, Lawrie 

1988 “Pesticide Alert,” The Amicus Journal, Spring. 

Odum, Eugene P. 

1971 Fundamentals of Ecology (3rd ed.; Philadelphia: Saunders). 

Chapter 2 


Odum, Howard T. 

1 97 1 Environment , Power and Society (New York: Wiley). 

Pimental, David, et al. 

1973 “Food Production and the Energy Crisis,” Science 182:443-449. 

Rappaport, Roy A. 

1971 “The Flow of Energy in an Agricultural Society,” Scientific American 
224(3):121 — 132. 

Reichle, David E. 

1975 “Advances in Ecosystem Analysis,” BioScience 25:257-264. 

Richards, Paul W. 

1973 “The Tropical Rain Forest,” Scientific American 229(6):58-67. 

Ricklefs, Robert E. 

1 973 Ecology (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Scientific American 

1 970 The Biosphere (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.) . 

Shepard, Paul, and Daniel McKinley, eds. 

1969 The Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of Man (Boston: Houghton 
Mifflin) [many fine articles on ecological science). 

Siever, Raymond 

1974 “The Steady State of the Earths Crust, Atmosphere and Oceans,” Scientific 
American 230(6)72-79 [excellent on basic ecological cycles). 

Steinhart.John S., and Carol E. Steinhart 

1974 “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System,” Science 184:307-316. 

Thurston, H. David 

1969 “Tropical Agriculture: A Key to the World Food Crisis,” BioScience 1929- 

Watt, Kenneth E. F. 

1973 Priticiples of Environmental Science (New York: McGraw-Hill). 

Woo dwell, G. M. 

1967 “Toxic Substances and Ecological Cycles,” Scientific American 220(3):24-31. 

1970 Effects of Pollution on the Structure and Physiology of Ecosystems ” Science 

1974 “Success, Succession, and Adam Smith,” BioScience 24:81-87. 

Chapter 2 

Abelson, Philip H. 

1974 “Water Pollution Abatement: Goals and Costs,” Science 184:1333. 

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1975 Special issue on “Food and Nutrition,” Scietice 188:501-653 [many useful 
articles tending toward a rather optimistic conclusion that technology is 
capable of expanding production markedly]. 

1976 Special issue on “Materials,” Science 191:631-776 [excellent discussion of 
many important issues, including some that are neglected in other sources; 
generally optimistic about the ability of technology to cope with impending 
shortages, but the opposite point of view is represented]. 

Abert, James G., Harvey Alter, and J. Frank Bernheisel 

1974 “The Economics of Resource Recovery from Municipal Solid Waste ” Science 



Albers, John P 

1973 “Seabed Mineral Resources: A Survey,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
29(8):33-38 [optimistic]. 

Alexander, M. 

1973 “Microorganisms and Chemical Pollution,” BioScietice 23:509—515. 

Allen, Jonathan 

1973 “Sewage Farming: Science Races Forward to the Eighteenth Century,” En- 
vironment 15(3):36-41. 

Allen, Robert 

1974 “Turning Platitudes into Policy,” Neu> Scientist 64:400-402 [by promoting the 
development of traditional agricultural techniques for expanding production]. 

Almqvist, Ebbe 

1974 “An Analysis of Global Air Pollution,” Ambio 3:161-167. 

American Chemical Society 

1969 Cleaning Our Environment — The Chemical Basis for Action (Washington: 
American Chemical Society). 


1970 “Environmental Repairs,” Sierra Club Bulletin 60(3):22 [cost of environmental 
repairs from OECD study]. 

1973 “The BEIR Report: Effects on Populations of Exposure to Low Levels of 
Ionizing Radiation,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 29(3):47-49. 

Bair, W. J., and R. C. Thompson 

1974 “Plutonium: Biomedical Research,” Science 183:715-722. 

Bardach, John E., John H. Ryther, and William O. McLarney 

1972 Aquaculture: The Farming and Husbandry of Freshwater and Marine Organisms 
(New York: Wiley). 

Barnett, Harold J., and Chandler Morse 

1963 Scarcity and Growth: The Economics of Natural Resource Availability (Baltimore: 
Johns Hopkins). 

Berg, Alan 

1973 The Nutrition Factor: Its Role in National Development (Washington: Brookings 

Bergstrom, Georg 

1967 The Hungry Planet: The Modem World at the Edge of Famine (New York: Collier). 

1971 Too Many: An Ecological Overview of the Earth’s Limitations (New York: 

Bernarde, Melvin A. 

1970 Our Precarious Habitat (N ew York: Norto n) . 

Berry, R. Stephen 

1971 “The Option for Survival,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 27(5):22-27 [recy- 
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Bevington, Pack, and Arthur H. Rosenfeld 

1990 “Energy for Buildings and Homes,” Scientific American 263(3): 76—89. 
Bjorkman, Olle, and Joseph Berry 

1973 “High-Efficiency Photosynthesis,” Scientific American 229(4) :80-93. 

Bleviss, Deborah L., and Peter Walzer 

1990 “Energy for Motor Vehicles,” Scientific American 263(3): 102-109. 

Bohn, Hinrich I., and Robert C. Cau thorn 

1971 “Pollution: The Problem of Misplaced Waste,” American Scientist 60:561-565. 

Chapter 2 


Bonner, James, and John Weir 

1963 The Next Hundred Years (New York: Viking). 

Booth, William 

1990 “Warm Seas Killing Coral Reefs,” The Washington Post, 12 October, A8. 
Borlaug, Norman E. 

1972 “Mankind and Civilization at Another Crossroad: In Balance with Nature — A 
Biological Myth,” Bio Science 22:41-44. 

Boughey, Arthur S., ed. 

1973 Readings in Man, the Environment, and Human Ecology (New York: Macmillan). 
Brooks, David B., and P. W. Andrews 

1974 “Mineral Resources, Economic Growth, and World Population,” Science 

Brown, Harrison 

1954 The Challenge of Man's Future (New York: Viking). 

1970 “Human Materials Production as a Process in the Biosphere,” Scientific 
American 223(3): 19-5208. 

Brown, Lester R. 

1972 World Without Borders (New York: Random House). 

1 974 By Bread Alone (New York: Praeger). 

1 989 “Reexamining the World Food Prospect.” In State of the World, 1 989, ed. Linda 
Starke (New York: W. W Norton & Company). 

1990a “The Illusion of Progress” In State of the World, 1990. ed. Linda Starke (New 
York: W. W. Norton & Company) . 

1990b “Feeding Six Billion,” in Environment 90/91. Reprinted from World Watch 
September/October 1989, pp. 32-A0, ed.John Allen, Annual Editions (Guil- 
ford, Connecticut: Dushkin Publishing Group). 

1991 “The New World Order,” in State of the World, 1991, ed. Linda Starke (New 
York: W. W. Norton & Company). 

, and John E. Young 

1990 “Feeding the World in the Nineties,” in State of the World, 1990, ed. Linda 
Starke (New York: W. W. Norton & Company). 

Bryson, Reid A. 

1974 “A Perspective on Climatic Change,” Science 184:753-760. 

Carson, Rachel 

1962 Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 

Carter, Luther J. 

1974 “Cancer and the Environment (I): A Creaky System Grinds On,” Science 

Chandler, William U., Alexei A. Makarov, and Zhou Dadi 

1990 “Energy for the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China,” Scientific American 
263(3): 120— 127. 

Chapman, Duane 

1973 “An End to Chemical Farming’” Environment 15(2):1 2— 17. 

Chasis, Sarah, and Lisa Speer 

1991 “Congressional Coastal Watch, "Amicus Journal, Winter, 21. 

Christy, Francis T., Jr., and Anthony Scott 

1965 The Common Wealth in Ocean Fisheries (Baltimore Johns Hopkins). 

Clawson, Marion, Hans H. Landsberg, and Lyle T. Alexander 

1969 “Desalted Water for Agriculture: Is It Economic?” Science 164:1141-1148. 



Cloud, Preston E., Jr 

1968 “Realities of Mineral Distribution,” Texas Quarterly 2(2): 1 03 — 1 26. 

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1969 Resources and Man (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Coale, AnsleyJ. 

1970 “Man and His Environment,” Science 170:132-136 

1974 “The History of the Human Population,” Scientific American 231 (3):41 — 51 . 
Commission on Population Growth and the American Future 

1972 Population and the American Future (New York: New American Library). 
Commoner, Barry 

1971 The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology (New York: Knopf). 

1990 Making Peace With the Planet (New York: Pantheon Books). 

Conney, A. H., and J.J. Burns 

1972 “Metabolic Interactions Among Environmental Chemicals and Drugs,” 
Science 178:576-586. 

Conservation Foundation 

1973a “Is Man Facing a Chronic Food Supply Problem?” Conservation Foundation 
Letter, October, pp. 1-8. 

1973b “How Far Can Man Push Nature in Search of Food?” Conservation Founda- 
tion Letter, November, pp. 1-8. 

1974 “Public Health: Still the Crux of Pollution Fights,” Conservation Foundation 
Letter, May, pp. 1-8. 

Cook, Earl 

1975 “The Depletion of Geological Resources,” Technology Review 77 (7): 15-27. 
Council on Environmental Quality, et al. 

1972 T7ie Economic Impact of Pollution Control: A Summary of Recent Studies 
(Washington: Government Printing Office). 

Council on Environmental Quality and Department of State, Gerald O. Barney, Study 

1980 “The Global 2000 Report to the President” (Washington, D.C.). 

Critical Mass Energy Project 

1989 Factsheet #5 (Washington, D.C.: Public Citizen). 

Daly, Herman E., and John B. Cobb, Jr. 

1989 For The Common Good (Boston: Beacon Press). 

Darnell, Rezneat M. 

1971 “The World Estuaries^Ecosystems in Jeopardy,” INTECOL Bulletin 3:3- 

20 . 

Davis, Ged R. 

1990 “Energy for Planet Earth,” Scientific American 263(3): 54-63. 

DeBach, Paul 

1974 Biological Control by Natural Enemies (New York: Cambridge University Press) 
[an important book on a critical topic]. 


1971 Before Nature Dies (Baltimore: Penguin). 

Dubos, Rene 

1965 Man Adapting (New Haven: Yale University Press). 

Eckholm, Erik P. 

1976 Losing Ground: Environmental Stress and World Food Prospects (New York: 

Chapter 2 


Ehrenfeld, David W. 

1974 “Conserving the Edible Sea Turde: Can Mariculture Help?” American Scientist 

Ehrlich, Anne H. and John P. Holdren 

1973 Human Ecology: Problems and Solutiotis (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

, and John P. Holdren 

1969 “Population and Panaceas: A Technological Perspective,” BioScience 19:1065-1071. 

, John P. Holdren, and Richard W. Holm, eds. 

1971 Man and the Ecosphere (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Ehrlich, Paul R. 

!968 The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine). 

, and Anne H. Ehrlich 

1972 Population, Resources, Environment: Issues in Human Ecology (2nd ed.; New York: 
W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

, and Ani e H. Ehrlich 

1990 “The Population Explosion,” The Amicus Journal, Winter, 22-29. 

Environmental Protection Agency 

1 972 The Economics Of Clean Air: Annual Report of the Administrator of The Enviromen- 
tal Protection Agency to the Congress of the United States, February 1972 
(Washington: Government Printing Office). 

Fickett, Arnold P., Clark W. Gellings, and Amory B. Lovins 

1990 “Efficient Use of Electricity,” Scientific American 263(3): 64-75. 

Havin, Christopher 

1987 “Reassessing Nuclear Power: The Fallout from Chernobyl,” in Worldwatch 
Paper 75, March (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute). 

1990a “Ten Years of Fallout,” in Environment 90/91. Reprinted from World Watch 
March/ April 1989, pp. 30-37, ed. John Allen (Guiffiord, Connecticut: Dushkin 
Publishing Group). 

1990b “Slowing Global Warming,” in State of the World, 1990, ed. Linda Starke (New 
York: W. W. Norton & Company). 

, and Nicholas Lenssen 

1991 “Designing a Sustainable Energy System,” in State of the World, 1991, ed. Linda 
Starke (New York: W. W. Norton & Company). 

Hawn, Peter T. 

1966 Mineral Resources: Geology, Engineering, Economics, Politics, Law (Chicago: 
Rand McNally). 

Foster, G. G., et al. 

1972 “Chromosome Rearrangements for the Control of Insect Pests,” Science 

Frejka, Tomas 

1968 “Reflections on the Demographic Conditions Needed to Establish a U. S. 
Stationary Population Growth,” Population Studies 22:379-397. 

1 97 3a The Future of Population Growth : A 1 tentative Paths to Equ ilibrium (N ew York: Wiley) . 

1973b “The Prospects for a Stationary World Population,” Scientific American 
228(3): 15-23. 

Fulkerson, William, Roddie R. Judkins, and Manoj K. Sanghvi 

1990 “Energy From Fossil Fuels,” Scientific American 263(3): 128-135. 

Furon, Raymond 

1 967 The Problem of Water (New York: American Elsevier) . 



Gibbons, John, Peter Blair, and Holly Gwin 

1989 “Strategies for Energy Use/’ Scientific American 261 (3): 136-143. 

Gillette, Robert 

1972 “Radiation Standards: The Last Word or at Least a Definitive One,” Science 
178:966-967, 1012. 

1974 “Cancer and the Environment (II): Groping for New Remedies,” Science 

Gladwell, Malcolm 

1990 “Consumers’ Choices About Money Consistendy Defy Common Sense,” The 
Washington Post, 12 February, A3. 

Global Tomorrow Coalition 

1990 The Global Ecology Handbook, ed. Walter H. Corson (Boston: Beacon Press). 
Grahn, Douglas 

1972 “Genetic Effects of Low Level Irradiation,” BioScience 22:535-540. 

Groth, Edward, III 

1975 “Increasing the Harvest,” Environment 17 (1):28 — 39 [an excellent summary of 
the key issues, amply documented]. 

Hafele, Wolf 

1990 “Energy from Nuclear Power,” Scientific American 263(3)136-145. 

Hammond, Allen L. 

1974a “Manganese Nodules (I): Mineral Resources on the Deep Seabed,” Science 

1974b “Manganese Nodules (II): Prospects for Deep Sea Mining,” Science 183:644- 

Hannon, Bruce M. 

1972 “Botdes, Cans, Energy,” Environment 14(2): 1 1— 21 . 

Harte, John, and Robert H. Socolow, eds. 

1971 Patient Earth (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston). 

Haub, Carl 

1988 “Trial by Numbers,” Sierra 73: 40-42. 

Heichel, G. H. 

1974 “Energy Needs and Food Yields,” Technology Review 76(8): 19-25. 

Hirst, Eric 

1973 “The Energy Cost of Pollution Control,” Environment 15(8):37-44. 

1974 “Food-Related Energy Requirements,” Science 184:134—138. 

Hoff, Johan E., and Jules Janick, eds. 

1973 Food (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Hoffinan, Allen R., and David Rittenhouse Inglis 

1972 “Radiation and Infants,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 28(10):45— 52. 
Holdren, John P., and Paul R. Ehrlich 

1971 Global Ecology: Toward a Rational Strategy for Man (New York: Harcourt Brace 

Holing, Dwight 

1991 “America’s Energy Plan,” The Amicus Journal, Winter, 12-20. 

Holmberg, Bo, et al. 

1975 Special issue on “The Work Environment,” Arnbio 4(l):I-65 [an excellent 
review of an important problem]. 

Howland, H. Richard 

1975 “The Helium Conservation Question,” Technology Review 11 (7):42-49 . 

Chapter 2 


Huffaker, Carl B. 

1971 “Biological Control and a Remodeled Pest Control Strategy,” Technology 
Review 73(8):31— 37. 

Inman, Douglas L., and Birchard M. Brush 

1973 “The Coastal Challenge,” Science 181:20-31. 

Janzen, Daniel H. 

1973 “Tropical Agroecosystems,” Science 182:1212-1219. 

Kenward, Michael 

1972 “Fighting for the Clean Car,” New Scientist 51:553—555. 

1989 “‘Killer’ Trees To The Rescue,” Newsweek 1 14(14): 59. 

Kramer, Eugene 

1973 “Energy Conservation and Waste Recycling: Taking Advantage of Urban 
Congestion,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 29(4):13-18. 

Laing, David 

1974 “The Phosphate Connection,” Not Man Apart 4(13):1, 10. 

Lee, Douglas H. K. 

1973 “Specific Approaches to Health Effects of Pollutants,” Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists 29(8):45-47. 

Lichtenstein, E. P., T. T. Liang, and B. N. Anderegg 

1973 “Synergism of Insecticides by Herbicides,” Science 181:847-849. 

Likens, Gene E., and F. Herbert Bormann 

1974 “Acid Rain: A Serious Regional Environmental Problem,” Science 184:1176- 

Loosli, J. K. 

1974 “New Sources of Proteins for Human and Animal Feeding,” BioScience 

Lowe, Marcia 

1991 “Rethinking Urban Transport,” in State of the World, 1991, ed. Linda Starke 
(New York: W. W. Norton & Company). 


1970 The Ecological Context (New York: Braziller). 

1971 The Future of the Future (New York:Ballantine). 

MacIntyre, Ferren 

1974 “The Top Millimeter of the Ocean,” Scientific American 230(5):62-77. 
McKelvey, Vincent E. 

1972 “Mineral Resource Estimates and Public Policy,” American Scientist 60:32— 

1974 “Approaches to the Mineral Supply Problem,” Technology Review 76(5):13-23. 
Maddox, John 

1972 The Doomsday Syndrome (London: Macmillan). 

Malenbaum, Wilfred 

1973 “World Resources for the Year 2000,” Annals of the American Academy of Political 
and Social Science 408:30-46. 

Marx, Jean L. 

1974 “Nitrogen Fertilizer,” Science 185:133. 

Mathews, Jessica Tuchman 

1990 “Rescue Plan for Africa,” in Environment 90/91, reprinted from World 
Monitor May 1989, pp. 28-36., ed. John Allen (Guilford, Connecticut: 
Dushkin Publishing Group). 



Maugh, Thomas H. , II 

1974 “Chemical Carcinogenesis: A Long-Neglected Field Blossoms,” Science 

Meadows, Dennis L., et al. 

1974 The Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World (Cambridge: Wright- Allen). 
Meadows; Donella H., et al. 

1972 Tlte Limits to Growth (New York: Universe). 

Meier, Richard L. 

1966 Science and Economic Development: New Patterns of Living (2d ed.; Cambridge: 

Metz, William D., and Allen L. Hammond 

1974a “Geodynamics Report: Exploiting the Earth Sciences Revolution, "Science 

1974b “Helium Conservation Program: Casting It to the Winds,” Science 

Meyer, Alden 

1990a “The ‘White House Effect’: Bush Backs Off Carbon Dioxide Stabilization," 
Nucleus, Spring, 3. 

1990b “United States Increasingly Isolated on Global Warming,” Nucleus, Sum- 
mer, 3. 

Meyer, Judith E. 

1972 “Renewing the Soil,” Environment 14(2):22-24, 29-32. 

Murdoch, William W., ed. 

1971 Environment: Resources, Pollution and Society (Stamford, Conn.: Sinauer). 
National Academy of Sciences, Office of the Foreign Secretary, ed. 

1971 Rapid Population Growth (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins). 

National Research Council 

1989 Alternative Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press). 

NCMP (National Commission on Materials Policy) 

1972 Towards a National Materials Policy: Basic Data and Issues, An Interim Report 
(Washington: Government Printing Office). 

1973 Toward a National Materials Policy: World Perspective, Second Interim Report 
(Washington: Government Printing Office). 

Newill, Vaun A. 

1973 “Pollution’s Price — The Cost in Human Health, "Bulletin of the Atomic Scien- 
tists 29(8):47— 49. 

Newman, James E., and Robert C. Pickett 

1974 “World Climates and Food Supply Variations,” Science 186:877-881. 

Nogee, Alan 

1986 “Chernobyl: It Can Happen Here,” Environmental Action, July- August, 12-14. 
“Ocean Thermal Energy: Sunny Side Up.” 

1987 The Economist, 20 June, 94. 

Odell, Puce 

1974 “Water Pollution: The Complexities of Control,” Conservation Foundation 
Letter, December. 

Odum, Eugene P. 

1971 Fundamentals of Ecology (3d ed.; Philadelphia: Saunders). 

Odum, Howard T. 

1971 Environment, Power, and Society (New York: Wiley). 

Chapter 2 


Odum, William E. 

1974 “Potential Effects of Aquaculture on Inshore Coastal Waters,” Environmental 
Conservation 1:225-230. 

Othmer, Donald E,and Oswald A. Roels 

1973 “Power, Fresh Water, and Food from Cold, Deep Sea Water,” Science 182:121-125. 
Park, Charles F.,Jr. 

1968 Affluence in Jeopardy: Minerals and the Political Economy (San Francisco: Freeman, 

Payne, Philip 

1974 “Protein Deficiency or Starvation?” New Scientist 64:393-398 [an excellent 
overview of the whole malnutrition-starvation syndrome] . 

Penney, Terry R., and Desikan Bharathan 

1987 “Power from the Sea,” Scientific American 256(l):86-92. 

Perelman, Michael J. 

1972 “Fanning with Petroleum,” Environment 14(8):8-13. 

Pimental, David, et al. 

1973 “Food Production and the Energy Crisis,” Science 182:443-449. 

1975 “Energy^ and Land Constraints in Food Protein Production,” Science 190:754- 

Pinchot, Gifford B. 

1970 “Marine Farming,” Scientific American 223(6):15-21. 

1974 “Ecological Aquaculture,” Bio Science 24:265. 

Pollock, Cynthia 

1 986, April “Decommissioning: Nuclear Power’s Missing Link,” in Worldwatch Paper 

69 (Washington, D.C.: The Worldwatch Institute). 

Postel, Sandra 

1987, September “Defusing the Toxics Threat: Controlling Pesticides and Industrial 
Waste,” in Worldwatch Paper 19 (Washington, D. C.: Worldwatch Institute). 

1990 “Saving Water for Agriculture,” in State of the World , 1990, ed. Linda Starke 
(New York: W. W. Norton & Company). 

Probstein, Ronald F. 

1973 “Desalination,” American Scientist 61:280-293. 

Rauber, Paul 

1991 “Better Nature Through Chemistry,” Sierra, July /August, 32-34. 

Revelle, Roger 

1974 “Food and Population,” Scientific A merican 23 1(3): 161 -170 [optimistic]. 
Roberts, Leslie 

1989 “Does the Ozone Hole Threaten Antarctic Life?” Science 244: 288-289. 
Ross, Marc H., and Daniel Steinmeyer 

1990 “Energy for Industry,” Scientific American 263(3): 88-101. 

Russell, Dick 

1987 “Rush to Market, Biotechnology and Agriculture,” The Amicus Journal, Winter, 

Russett, Bruce M. 

1967 “The Ecology of Future International Politics,” International Studies Quarterly 
11(1): 14— 19 [a good discussion of the use of exponential growth in making 
predictions about the future]. 

Ryther,John H. 

1969 “Photosynthesis and Fish Production in the Sea,” Science 166:72-76. 



Sagan, L. A. 

1972 “Human Costs of Nuclear Power,” Science 177:487-493. 

Salk, Jonas 

1973 The Survival of the Wisest (New York: Harper and Row). 

SCEP (Report of the Study of Critical Environment Problems) 

1970 Man's Impact on the Global Environment (Cambridge: MIT). 

Schmidt-Perkins, Drusilla 

1989 “Are Alternative Fuels the Answer?” Environmental Action, July/ August, 21-22. 
Shapley, Deborah 

1973a “Auto Pollution: EPA Worrying That the Catalyst May Backfire,” Science 

1973b “Ocean Technology: Race to Seabed Wealth Disturbs More Than Fish,” 
Science 180:849-851,893. 

Shepard, Paul, and Daniel McKinley, eds. 

1969 The Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of Man (Boston: Houghton 
Mifflin) [many excellent articles, especially on pollution]. 

Singer, S. Fred 

1971 “Environmental Quality — When Does Growth Become Too Expensive?” in 
Is There an Optimum Level of Population?, ed. S. Fred Singer (New York: 

Skinner, Brian J. 

1969 Earth Resources (2d ed.; Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall). 

Small, William E. 

1971 “Agriculture: The Seeds of a Problem,” Technology Review 73(6):48-53. 

Smith, Roger H., and R. C. von Borstel 

1972 “Genetic Control of Insect Populations,” Science 178:1164—1174. 

Spurgeon, David 

1973 “The Nutrition Crunch: A World View,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 

Staines, Andrew 

1974 “Digesting the Raw Materials Threat,” New Scientist 61:609-611. 

Starr, Roger, and James Carlson 

1968 “Pollution and Poverty,” Public Interest 10:104—131 [pollution-control costs]. 
Steinhart,John S., and Carol E. Steinhart 

1974 “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System,” Science 184:307-316. 

Sterling, Theodor D. 

1971 “Difficulty of Evaluating the Toxicity and Teratogenicity of 2,4,5-T from 
Existing Animal Experiments,” Science 174:1358-1359. 

Summers, Claude M. 

1971 “The Conversion of Energy,” in Energy and Power, ed. Scientific American 
(New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.), pp. 93-106. 

Taylor, Theodore B., and Charles C. Humpstone 

1973 The Restoration of the Earth (New York: Harper and Row) [a “containment” 
pollution-control strategy]. 

Teitelbaum, Michael S. 

1975 “Relevance of Demographic Transition Theory for Developing Countries,” 
Science 188:420 

Valery, Nicholas 

1972 “Place in the Sun for Helium,” New Scientist 56:496-500. 

Chapter 2 


Wade, Nicholas 

1972 “A Message from Com Blight: The Dangers of Uniformity,” Science 177:67&-679. 
1974a “Green Revolution (I): A Just Technology, Often Unjust in Use.” Science 


1974b “Green Revolution (II); Problems of Adapting a Western Technology,” Science 

1974c “Raw Materials: U.S. Grows More Vulnerable to Third World Cartels,” Science 

1974d “Sahelian Drought: No Victory for Western Aid,” Science 185:234-237. 

1975 “New Alchemy Institute: Search for an Alternative Agriculture,” Science 

Waldbott, George L. 

1973 Health Effects of Environmental Pollutants (St. Louis: Mosby). 

Wallace, Bruce 

1974 “Commentary: Radioactive Wastes and Damage to Marine Communities," 
Bio Science 24: 164-167. 

Ward, Barbara, and Rene Dubos 

1972 Only One Earth: The Care and Maintence of a Small Planet (New York: 

Weeks, W. F., and W.J. Campbell 

1973 “Towing Icebergs to Irrigate Arid Lands: Manna or Madness?” Bulletin of the 
Atomic Scientists 29(5):35-39. 

Weinberg, Alvin M. 

1972 “Science and Trans-Science,” Minerva 10 (2): 209-222. 

Weinberg, Carl J., and Robert H. Williams 

1990 “Energy from the Sun” Scientific American 263(3): 146-155. 

Weisskopf, Michael 

1987 “Pesticides in 15 Common Foods May Cause 20,000 Cancers a Year,” 
Washington Post, 21 May, A33. 

Westman, Walter E. 

1972 “Some Basic Issues in Water Pollution Control Legislation,” American Scientist 
de Wilde, Jan 

1975 “Insect Population Management and Integrated Pest Control,” Ambio 

Wilkes, H. Garrison, and Susan Wilkes 

1972 “The Green Revolution,” Environment 14(8):32-39. 

Wittwer, S. H. 

1974 “Maximum Production Capacity of Food Crops,” BioScience 24:216-224. 
Wood,J. M. 

1974 “Biological Cycles for Toxic Elements in the Environment,” Science 183:1049- 

Woodwell, G. M. 

1969 “Radioactivity and Fallout: The Model Pollution,” BioScience 19:884-887. 
World Resources Institute 

1990 World Resources, 1990-91 in collaboration with the U.N. Environmental 
Programme and the U.N. Development Program. 

Wysham, Daphne 

1991 “Fueling the Fantasy” Greenpeace, May/June, 12-15. 



Young, Gale 

1970 “Dry Lands and Desalted Water,” Science 167:339-343. 

Young, John E. 

1991 “Reducing Waste, Saving Materials,” in State of the World , 1991, ed. Linda 
Starke (New York: W. W. Norton & Company). 

Zwick, David, and Mary Benstock 

1971 Water Wasteland: Ralph Nader's Study Group Report on Water Pollution (New York: 

Chapter 3 

Aaronson, Terri 

1971 “The Black Box,” Environment 13(10):10 — 18 [on fuel cells]. 

Abelson, Philip H., ed. 

1974 “Energy,” special issue of Science 184:245-389. 

Ahmed, A. Karim 

1975 “Unshielding the Sun: Human Effects,” Environment 17(3):6— 14. 

Alfven, Hannes 

1972 “Energy and Environment,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 28(5):5-8. 

1974 “Fission Energy and Other Sources of Energy,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
30(1): 4— 8. 

Allen, John, ed. 

1989 “The Planet Strikes Back” in Environment 90/91, reprinted from National 

Wildlife , February/March 1989, pp. 33-40, Annual Editions (Guilford, Con- 
necticut: The Dushkin Publishing Group). 

American Lung Association 

1990 “Air Pollution Health Costs Calculated,” The Washington Post, 21 January, A 12. 

1972a “No Small Difference of Opinion,” World Environment Newsletter in World, 
August 15, pp. 30-31. 

1972b “120 Million Mw. for Nothing,” Technology Review 74(7):58. 

1975 “What the Shuttle Might Do to Our Environment,” New Scientist 66:300 
[the atmospheric and climatic dangers of the Space Shuttle program]. 

Anthrop, Donald F. 

1970 “Environmental Side Effects of Energy Production,” Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists 26(8):39^11. 

Armstead, H. C. H., ed. 

1973 Geothermal Energy: Review of Research and Development (New York: UNESCO). 
Atwood, Genevieve 

1975 “The Strip-Mining of Western Coal,” Scientific American 233(6) :23-29. 
Axtmann, Robert C. 

1975 “Environmental Impact of a Geothermal Plant,” Science 187:795-803. 

Ayres, Eugene 

1950 “Power from the Sun,” Scientific American 1 83(2): 16— 21 . 

Baldwin, Pamela L., and Malcolm F. Baldwin 

1974 “Offshore Oil Heats Up as Energy Issue,” Conservation Foundation Letter, 

Bamberger, C. E., and J. Braunstein 

1975 “Hydrogen: A Versatile Element,” American Scientist 63:438^147. 

Chapter 3 


Barnaby, Frank, et al. 

1975 Symposium on “Can We Live with Plutonium?’’ in New Scientist 66:494-506. 
Barnea, Joseph 

1972 “Geothermal Power,” Scientific American 226(l):70-77. 

Barraclough, Geoffrey 

1974 “The End of an Era,” New York Review of Books, June 27, pp. 14-20 [on the 
current economic disarray and its causes], 
de Bell, Garrett, ed. 

1970 The Environmental Handbook (New York: Ballantine). 

Berg, Charles A. 

1973 “Energy Conservation through Effective Utilization,” Science 181:128-138. 

1974 “A Technical Basis for Energy Conservation,” Technology Review 76(4): 15-23. 
Berg, George G. 

1973 “Hot Wastes from Nuclear Power,” Environment 15(4):36^4. 

Berry, R. Stephen 

1971 “The Option for Survival,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 27(5):22-27. 
, and Margaret F. Fels 

1973 “The Energy Cost of Automobiles,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 29(10):1 1- 

, and Hiro Makino 

1974 “Energy Thrift in Packaging and Marketing,” Technology Review 76(4):33~43. 
Bezdek, Roger, and Bruce Hannon 

1974 “Energy, Manpower, and the Highway Trust Fund,” Science 185:669-675. 
Bockris, J. O’M. 

1974 “The Coming Energy Crisis and Solar Sources,” Environmental Conservation 

Boffey, Philip M. 

1975 “Rasmussen Issues Revised Odds on a Nuclear Catastrophe,” Science 

Bolin, Bert 

1974 “Modelling the Climate and Its Variations,” Ambio 3:180-188. 

Booth, William 

1990 “Carbon Dioxide Curbs May Not Halt Global Warming,” The Washington 
Post, 10 March, Al. 

1991a “Tropical Forests Disappearing at Faster Rate,” The Washington Post , 9 Sep- 
tember, A 18. 

1991b “Global Warming Continues, but Cause is Uncertain,” The Washington Post, 
10 January, A3. 

Boulding, Kenneth E. 

1964 The Meaning of the Twentieth Century: The Great Transition (New York: Harper 
and Row). 

1973 “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth,” in Daly 1973, pp. 121-132. 
Brinworth, B.J. 

1973 Solar Energy for Man (New York: Wiley). 

Broecker, Wallace S. 

1975 “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” 
Science 189:460-463. 

Brooks, Harvey 

1973 “The Technology of Zero-Growth,” Daedalus 102(4): 139-1 52. 



Brown, Harrison, James Bonner, and John Weir 

1963 The Next Hundred Years (New York: Viking). 

Browne, Malcolm W. 

1991 “Modern Alchemists Transmute Nuclear Waste,” The New York Times, 29 
October, Cl. 

Bryson, Reid A. 

1973 “Drought in Sahelia: Who or What Is to Blame?” The Ecologist 3:366—371. 

1974 “A Perspective on Climatic Change,” Science 184:753-760. 

Bupp, Irvin C., and Jean— Claude Derian 

1974 “The Breeder Reactor in the U.S.: A New Economic Analysis,” Technology 
Review 76 (8): 27-3 6. 

Burnet, Macfarlane 

1971 “After the Age of Discovery?” New Scientist 52:96—100. 

Bury, J. B. 

1955 The Idea of Progress.: An Inquiry into Its Origin and Growth (New York: Dover). 
Callahan, Daniel 

1973 The Tyranny of Survival (New York: Macmillan) [esp. Chap. 3, which discusses 
ways of reexamining technology]. 

Calvin, Melvin 

1974 “Solar Energy by Photosynthesis,” Science 184:375—381. 

Carter, Luther J. 

1973 “Deepwater Ports: Issue Mixes Supertanker, Land Policy,” Science 181:825-828. 

1974 “Floating Nuclear Plants: Power from the Assembly Line,” Science 183:1063- 

Chapman, Peter 

1974 “The Ins and Outs of Nuclear Power,” New Scietitist 64:966-969 [net energy 

Chedd, Graham 

1974 “Colonisation at Lagranges,” New Scientist 64:247—249. 

Cheney, Eric S. 

1974 “U.S. Energy Resources: Limits and Future Outlook,” American Scientist 

Clark, Wilson 

1974 Energy for Survival: The Alternatives to Extinction (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday). 
Clarke, Arthur C. 

1962 Profdes of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible (New York: Harper 
and Row). 

Cloud, Preston, ed. 

1969 Resources and Man (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Cochran, Thomas B. 

1974 The Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor: An Economic and Environmental Critique 
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins). 

Cohen, Bernard L. 

1974 “Perspectives on the Nuclear Debate: An Opposing View,” Bulletin of the 
Atomic Scientists 30(8):35-39 [nuclear power as the lesser evil]. 

Comey, David D. 

1974 “Will Idle Capacity Kill Nuclear Power?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
30(9): 23-28. 

1975 “The Legacy of Uranium Tailings,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 31(7):43-45. 

Chapter 3 


Commoner, Barry 

1990 Making Peace With the Planet (New York: Pantheon Books). 

, Howard Boksenbaum, and Michael Corr, eds. 

1975 Energy and Human Welfare: A Critical Analysis (3 vols; Riverside, N.J.: Macmillan 

Conservation Foundation 

1970 “Can We Have All the Electricity We Want and a Decent Environment Too?” 
CF Neu'sletter, No. 3-70. 

1973 “The Land Pinch: Where Can We Put Our Wastes?” Conservation Foundation 
Letter, May. 

1974a “Carrying Capacity Analysis Is Useful — But Limited,” Conservation Founda- 
tion Letter, June [a useful discussion of the multiple factors that have to be 
taken into account in thinking about carrying capacity for human use]. 

1974b “U.S. Coastline Is Scene of Many Energy Conflicts,” Conservation Foundation 
Letter, January. 

Cook, C. Sharp 

1973 “Energy: Planning for the Future," American Scientist 61:61-65. 

Cook, Earl 

1971 “The How of Energy in an Industrial Society,” Scientific American 224(3): 134—144. 

1976 Man, Energy, Society (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Cottrell, Fred 

1955 Energy and Society: The Relation Between Energy, Social Change, and Economic 
Development (New York: McGraw-Hill). 

Craven, Gwyneth 

1975 “The Garden of Feasibility,” Harper’s, August, pp. 66—75 [a proposal for space 

Crossland, Janice 

1974 “Ferment in Technology,” Environment 16(10): 17-30 [fermenting organic 
materials for fuels and other useful products]. 

Dahlberg, Kenneth A. 

1973 “Towards a Policy of Zero Energy Growth,” The Ecologist 3:338-341. 

Daly, Herman E., ed. 

1973 Tou>ard a Steady State Economy (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Daniels, Farrington 

1964 Direct Use of the Sun’s Energy (New Haven: Yale). 

1971 “Direct Use of the Suns Energy,” American Scientist 55:5-47 [updates and 
summarizes his book, still a standard work in the field]. 

David, Edward E.,Jr. 

1973 “Energy 7 : A Strategy of Diversity,” Technology Review 75(7):26-31 . 

Day, M. C. 

1975 “Nuclear Energy: A Second Round of Questions,” Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists 3 1(10): 52-59 [fuel supply problems]. 

DeNike, L. Douglas 

1974 “Radioactive Malevolence,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 30(2): 16-20 [security 

Dials, George E., and Elizabeth C. Moore 

1974 “The Cost of Coal,” Environment 16(7): 18-37. 

Dickson, David 

1974 Alternative Technology: And the Politics of Technical Change (London: Fontana). 



Dinneen, Gerald U., and Glenn L. Cook 

1974 “Oil Shale and the Energy Crisis,” Technology Review 76(3):27-33. 

Djerassi, Carl, et al. 

1974 “Insect Control of the Future: Operational and Policy Aspects,” Science 

Dreschhoff, Gisela, D. F. Saunders, and E. J. Zeller 

1974 “International High Level Nuclear Waste Management,” Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists 30(1): 28-33. 

Drucker, Daniel C. 

1971 “The Engineer in the Establishment,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 27(10):31-34. 
Dudley, H. C. 

1975 “The Ultimate Catastrophe,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 3 1(9): 2 1-34 
[the remote possibility of a runaway chain reaction following a nuclear 

Edsalljohn T. 

1974 “Hazards of Nuclear Fission Power and the Choice of Alternatives,” Environ- 
mental Conservation l(l):21-30 [fossil fuel the lesser risk]. 

Ehricke, Kraffi A. 

1971 “Extraterrestrial Imperative,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 27(9):18-26 
[escape to space]. 

Ehrlich, Paul R.,and Anne Ehrlich 

1972 Population, Resources, Environment: Issues in Human Ecology (2nd ed.; New York: 
W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

EIC (Environment Information Center) 

1973 The Energy Index (New York: EIC). 

Eigner, Joseph 

1975 “Unshielding the Sun: Environmental Effect s,” Environment 17(3):1 5 — 18. 

Ellis, A. J. 

1975 “Geothermal Systems and Power Development,” American Scientist 63:510-521 . 
Emmett, John L.John Nuckolls, and Lowell Wood 

1974 “Fusion Power by Laser Implosion,” Scientific American 230(6):24-37. 

1973 Energy /Environment /Economy: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected U.S. Govern- 
ment Publications Concerning United States Energy Policy (April) and Supplement 
(September) (mimeo; Green Bay: Enviro/Info). 

Environmental Action 

1991 “U.S. Lacks National Plan for Packaging Reduction "Environmental Action, 
March-April, 25—29. 

Ewell, Raymond 

1975 “Food and Fertilizer in the Developing Countries, 1975-2000,” BioSciettce 25:771. 
Ewing, Maurice, and W. L. Donn 

1956 “A Theory of Ice Ages,” Science 123:1061-1066. 

Ferkiss, Victor C. 

1969 Technological Man: The Myth and the Reality (New York:Braziller). 

Fisher, John C. 

1974 Energy Crises in Perspective (New York: Wiley). 

Fletcher, J. O. 

1970 “Polar Ice and the Global Climate Machine,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scien- 
tists 26 (10): 40-47. 

Chapter 3 


French, Hillary- F. 

1990 “A Most Deadly Trade” World Watch, July-August, 11-17. 

Frisken, W.R. 

1971 “Extended Industrial Revolution and Climate Change,” EOS 52:500-507. 
Gabel, Medard, ed. 

1975 Energy, Earth & Everyone (San Francisco: Straight Arrow) [an unconventional 
and stimulating treatment of energy by followers of Buckminster Fuller]. 
Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas 

1971 The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (Cambridge: Harvard). 

1973 “The Entropy Law and the Economic Problem,” in Daly 1973, pp. 37-49. 
1975 “Energy and Economic Myths,” The Ecologist 5:164-174,242-252. 

Giddings, J. Calvin 

1973 “World Population, Human Disaster and Nuclear Holocaust,” Bulletin of the 
Atomic Scientists 29(7):21-24, 45-50. 

Gillette, Robert 

1973a “Energy R & D: Under Pressure, a National Policy Takes Form,” Science 

1973b “NAS: Water Scarcity May Limit Use of Western Coal,” Science 181:525. 
1973c “Radiation Spill at Hanford: The Anatomy of An Accident,” Science 

1974a “Budget Review: Energy,” Science 183:636-638. 

1974b “Oil and Gas Resources: Did USGS Gush Too High?” Science 185:127-130. 
1974c “Synthetic Fuels: Will Government Lend the Oil Industry a Hand?” Science 

1975 “Geological Survey Lowers Its Sights,” Science 189:200. 

Gilliland, Martha W. 

1975 “Energy Analysis and Public Policy,” Science 189:1051-1056. 

Glaser, Peter E. 

1968 “Power from the Sun: Its Future,” Science 162:857-861 [gathering solar 
energy in space]. 

Glass, Bentley 

1971 “Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?” Science 171:23-29. 

Global Tomorrow Coalition 

1990 The Global Ecology Handbook, ed. Walter H. Corson (Boston: Beacon Press.) 

1972 “Is Nuclear Fission Acceptable?” Futures 4:21 1-219. 

Goldstein, Irving S. 

1975 “Potential for Converting Wood into Plastics,” Science 189:847-852. 

Gough, William C., and Bernard J. Eastlund 

1971 “The Prospects of Fusion Power,” Scientific American 224(2) :50-64. 

Green, Harold P. 

1971 “Radioactive Waste and the Law,” Natural Resources Journal 11:281-295. 
Green, Leon, Jr. 

1967 “Energy Needs vs. Environmental Pollution — A Reconciliation,” Science 
156:1448-1450 [using ammonia as a fuel]. 

Greenhill, Basil 

1972 “The Sailing Ship in a Fuel Crisis,” The Ecologist 2(9):8-10. 

Gregory, Derek P. 

1973 “The Hydrogen Economy,” Scientific American 228(i): 13 — 21. 



Gustafson, Philip F. 

1970 “Nuclear Power and Thermal Pollution: Zion, Illinois,” Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists 26 (3) : 1 7-23 . 


1974 “A Systems Approach to Energy,” American Scientist 62:438-447. 

Hammond, Allen L. 

1974a “Academy Says Energy Self-Sufficiency Unlikely,” Science 184:964 [reporting 
conclusions of National Academy of Engineering study]. 

1974b “Energy: Ford Foundation Study Urges Action on Conservation,” Science 

1974c “Individual Self-Sufficiency in Energy,” Science 184:278-282. 

1974d “Modeling the Climate: A New Sense of Urgency,” Science 185:1145-1147. 
1975a “Geothermal Resources: A New Look,” Science 190:370. 

1975b “Ozone Destruction: Problem’s Scope Grows, Its Urgency Recedes,” Science 

1975c “Solar Energy Reconsidered: ERDA Sees Bright Future,” Science 189:538-539. 
1976 “Lithium: Will Short Supply Constrain Energy Technologies?” Science 

, and Thomas H. Maugh, II 

1974 “Stratospheric Pollution: Multiple Threats to Earth’s Ozone,” Science 

, William Metz, and Thomas H. Maugh, II 

1973 Energy and the Future (Washington: AAAS). 

Hammond, Ogden, and Martin B. Zimmerman 

1975 “The Economics of Coal-Based Synthetic Gas,” Technology Review 77(8):43-51. 
Hammond, R. Philip 

1974 “Nuclear Power Risks,” American Scientist 62:155-160. 

Hannon, Bruce 

1974 “Options for Energy Conservation,” Technology Review 76(4) :2 4-31. 

1975 “Energy Conservation and the Consumer,” Science 189:95—102 [a first-rate 
discussion of the need for an energy standard of value] . 

Harleman, Donald R. F. 

1971 “Heat — The Ultimate Waste,” Technology Review 74(2):45-51. 

Harte, John, and Robert H. Socolow, eds. 

1971 Patient Earth (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston). 

Hein, R. A. 

1974 “Superconductivity: Large-Scale Applications,” Science 185:21 1-222. 
Heronemus, William E. 

1975 “The Case for Solar Energy,” Center Report 8(l):6-9. 

Hirsch, Robert L.,and William L. R. Rice 

1974 “Nuclear Fusion Power and the Environment,” Environmental Conservation 

Hirst, Eric 

1973 “Transportation Energy Use and Conservation Potential,” Bulletin of the 
Atomic Scientists 29(9):36-42. 

, and John C. Moyers 

1973 “Efficiency of Energy Use in the United States,” Science 179:1299-1304. 
Hobbs, P. V., H. Harrison, and E. Robinson 

1974 “Atmospheric Effects of Pollutants,” Science 183:909-915. 

Chapter 3 


Hohenemser, Kurt H. 

1975 “The Failsafe Risk,” Environment 17(1):6-10. 

Holdren,John P. 

1974 “Hazards of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” Bulletin of tlxe Atomic Scientists 30(8): 14— 23. 
, and Paul R. Ehrlich 

1974 “Human Population and the Global Environment,” American Scientist 62:282-292. 
House Committee on Energy and Commerce, United States Congress, Subcommittee 

on Health and the Environment. 

1989 Hearing on Air Toxins Control Act of 1989, 100th Cong., 1st sess., 22 June 
Testimony of Bruce K. Maillet, on behalf of the State and Territorial Air 
Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution 
Control Officials. 

House Committee on Energy and Commerce, United States Congress, Subcommittee 
on Health and the Environment. 

1989 Hearing on Air Toxins Control Act of 1989, 100th Cong., 1st sess. , 22 June 
Statement of Henry A. Waxman, Chairman. 

Hubbert, M. King 

1969 “Energy Resources,” in Cloud 1969, pp. 157-242. 

Hueckel, Glenn 

1975 “A Historical Approach to Future Economic Growth,” Science 187:925-931 
[an article on technological growth that begs almost all the questions raised 
in this chapter]. 

Indonesia, Government of 

1989 U. S. News and World Report, 18 December, 80—81. 

Inglis, David R. 

1973 Nuclear Energy — Its Physics and Its Social Challenge (Reading, Mass.: Ad- 
dison- Wesley). 

Johnston, Harold S. 

1974 “Pollution of the Stratosphere,” Environmental Conservation 1:163-176. 
Kantrowitz, Arthur 

1969 “The Test: Meeting the Challenge of New Technology,” Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists 25(9):20-22, 48 [even more Panglossian than Rabinowitch 1969]. 

Kariel, Pat 

1974 “The Athabasca Tar Sands,” Sierra Club Bulletin 59(8):8-10, 32. 

Kates, Robert W., et al. 

1973 “Human Impact of the Managua Earthquake,” Science 182:981-990. 

Kellogg, W. W., and S. H. Schneider 

1974 “Climate Stabilization: For Better or for Worse?” Science 186:1 163-1172 [the 
perils of attempting climate control]. 

Kolb, Charles E. 

1975 “The Depletion of Stratospheric Ozone,” Technology Review 7 S(\):39-47. 
Krieger, David 

1975 “Terrorists and Nuclear Technology,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 

Kubo, Arthur S., and David J. Rose 

1973 “Disposal of Nuclear Wastes, " Science 182:1205-121 1. 

Kuhn, Thomas S. 

1970 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd ed.; University of Chicago Press) 
[diminishing returns in scientific discovery]. 



Kukla, George J., and Helena J. Kukla 

1974 “Increased Surface Albedo in the Northern Hemisphere/’ Science 183:709- 

Lamb, Hubert H. 

1974 “Is the Earths Climate Changing?” The Ecologist 4:10-15. 

Landsberg, Hans H. 

1974 “Low-Cost, Abundant Energy: Paradise Lost?” Science 184:247-253. 
Landsberg, Helmut E., and Lester Machta 

1974 “Anthropogenic Pollution of the Atmosphere: Whereto?” Ambio 3:146-150. 
Lapp, Ralph E. 

1972 “One Answer to the Atomic-Energy Puzzle — Put the Atomic Power Plants in 
the Ocean,” New York Times Magazine, June 4, pp. 20-21, 80-90. 

1973 “The Chemical Century,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 29(7):8-14. 

Lewis, Richard S. 

1972 The Nuclear Power Rebellion: Citizens us. the Atomic Industrial Establishment (New 
York: Viking). 

Lieberman, M. A. 

1976 “United States Uranium Resources — An Analysis of Historical Data,” Science 

Lincoln, G. A. 

1973 “Energy Conservation,” Science 180:155-162. 

Lindop, Patricia J., and J. Rotblat 

1971 “Radiation Pollution of the Environment,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
27(7): 17-24. 

Lippman, Thomas W. 

1991 “Risk Found in Low Levels of Radiation,” The Washington Post, 20 March, 

Lovins, Amory B. 

1975 World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (Cambridge: Friends of the 

, and John H. Price 

1975 Non-Nuclear Futures: The Case for an Ethical Energy Strategy (Cambridge: Friends 
of the Earth/Ballinger). 

McCaull, Julian 

1973 “Windmills,” Environment 15(1):6 — 17. 

1974 “Wringing Out the West,” Environment 16(7): 10-17. 

McCloughlin, Merrill 

1989 “Our Dirty Air,” U. S. News and World Report, 12 June, 48-54. 

McIntyre, Hugh C. 

1975 “Natural-Uranium Heavy-Water Reactors,” Scientific American 233(4):17-27 
[the CANDU system]. 


1972 “Mineral Resource Estimates and Public Policy,” American Scientist 60:32- 

Makhijani, A.B., and A.J. Lichtenberg 

1972 “Energy and Well-Being,” Environment 1 4(5) : 1 1—18. 

Manuel, Frank E. 

1962 The Prophets of Paris (Cambridge: Harvard) [the Enlightenment ideology of 
progress] . 

Chapter 3 


Maraniss, David, and Michael Weisskopf 

1988 “Jobs and Illness in Petrochemical Corridor,” The Washington Post, 22 Decem- 
ber, Al. 

Margen, Peter, et al. 

1975 “The Capacity of Nuclear Power Plants,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 

Martin, S., and W. J. Campbell 

1973 “Oil and Ice in the Arctic Ocean: Possible Large-Scale Interactions,” Science 

Marx, Wesley 

1973 “Los Angeles and Its Mistress Machine,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 29(4):4-7, 

Massumi, Brian 

1974 “Oil Shale Country,” Not Man Apart 4(6):12. 

Mathews, Jay 

1991 “Southern California Clean Air Agency is Criticized,” 'Die Washington Post, 1 
May, A21. 

Mazur, Allan, and Eugene Rosa 

1974 “Energy and Life-Style,” Science 186:607-610. 

Meadows, Dennis L.,andJorgen Randers 

1972 “Adding the Time Dimension to Environmental Policy,” in World Eco-Crisis: 
International Organizations in Response, ed. David A. Kay and Eugene B. 
Skolnikoff (Madison: Wisconsin), pp. 47-66. 

Meadows, Dennis L., et al. 

1974 The Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World (Cambridge: Wright-Alien). 
Medawar, Peter 

1969 “On ‘The Effecting of All Things Possible,’ " Technology Review 72(2):30-35 [a 
modem descendant of Francis Bacon emotionally defends the hope of progress]. 
Meineh Aden B., and Maijorie P. Meinel 

1971 “Is It Time for a New Look at Solar Energy?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 

Mesarovic, Mihajlo, and Eduard Pestel 

1974 Mankind at the Turning Point: The Second Report to the Club of Rome (New York: 
Duttord Readers Digest). 

Metz, William D. 

1972 “Magnetic Containment Fusion: What Are the Prospects?” Science 178:291-292. 

1973 “Ocean Temperature Gradients: Solar Power from the Sea,” Science 180:1266- 

1974 “Oil Shale: A Huge Resource of Low-Grade Fuel,” Science 184:1271-1275. 
1975a “Energy Conservation: Better Living through Thermodynamics,” Science 


1975b “Energy: ERDA Stresses Multiple Sources and Conservation,” Science 

Metzger, H. Peter 

1 972 The Atomic Establishment (New York: Simon and Schuster) . 

Meyer, Alden 

1990 “The ‘White House Effect’: Bush Backs Off Carbon Dioxide Stabilization,” 
Nucleus, Spring, 3. 

1990 “United States Increasingly Isolated on Global Warming, "Nucleus, Summer, 3. 



Michaelis, Anthony R. 

1973 “Coping with Disaster,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 29(4):24— 29. 

Micklin, Philip P. 

1974 “Environmental Hazards of Nuclear Wastes,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
30(4):36-42 [a first-rate non-polemical review]. 

Miles, Rufus., Jr. 

1976 Awakening from the American Dream (New York: Universe). 

Mishan, E.J. 

1974 “The New Inflation: Its Theory and Practice,” Encounter 42(5): 12-24. 

Moore, Curtis 

1990 “Revenge of the Killer Trees,” The Washington Post, 29 July, C3. 

Mostert, Noel 

1974 Supership (New York: Knopf). 

Mumford, Lewis 

1970 The Pentagon of Power (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). 

Murdoch, William W. , ed. 

1971 Environment: Resources, Pollution and Society (Stamford: Sinauer). 

Mussett, Alan 

1973 “Discovery: A Declining Asset?” New Scientist 60:886-889. 

Naill, Roger F., et al. 

1975 “The Transition to Coal,” Technology Review 78(1):19— 29. 

Nash, Hugh 

1974 “Nader, UCS Release Suppressed AEC Report on Reactor Safety,” Not Man 
Apart 4(2):8-9. 

National Academy of Sciences 

1975 Mineral Resources and the Environment (Washington: National Academy of Sciences) 

[critical of the U.S. Geological Survey oil and gas estimates as too high]. 

National Research Council 

1989 Alternative Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.) 

Nelson, Saul 

1974 “The Looming Shortage of Primary Processing Capacity,” Challenge 
de Nevers, Noel 

1973 “Enforcing the Clean Air Act of 1970,” Scientific American 228(6): 14-21. 
Newell, Reginald E. 

1974 “The Earths Climatic History,” Technology Review 77(2):31-45. 

Nilsson, Sam 

1974 “Energy Analysis — A More Sensitive Instrument for Determining Costs of 
Goods and Services,” Ambio 3:222-224. 

Novick, Sheldon 

1969 The Careless Atom (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 

1975 “A Troublesome Brew,” Environment 1 7(4):8 — 1 1 [critique of AEC’s final 
environmental impact statement on the breeder]. 

Odell, Rice 

1975 “Net Energy Analysis Can Be Illuminating,” Conservation Foundation Letter, 
October [a very useful brief summary of the issues]. 

O’Donnell, Sean 

1974 “Ireland Turns to Peat,” New Scientist 63:18-19 [the USSR and other 
countries also have substantial supplies]. 

Chapter 3 


Odum, Howard T. 

1971 Environment , Power and Society (New York: Wiley). 

1973 “Energy, Ecology and Economics,” Ambio 2:220-227. 

Okie, Susan 

1990 “Cancer Rates in Industrial Countries Rise,” The Washington Post, 10 December, 

O’Neill, Gerard K. 

1975 “Space Colonies and Energy Supply to the Earth,” Science 190:943-947. 
Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development 

1990 Tlte State of the Environment. (Paris: OECD Publication Service). 

Osborn, Elburt F. 

1974 “Coal and the Present Energy Situation,” Science 183:477-481. 

Page, James K.,Jr. 

1974 “Growing Pains in Energy,” Smithsonian 5(6): 12-1 5. 

Park, Charles F,Jr. 

1968 Affluence in Jeopardy: Minerals and the Political Economy (San Francisco: 
Freeman, Cooper). 

Patterson, Walter C. 

1972 “The British Atom,” Environment 14(10):2-9. 

Pearl, Arthur, and Stephanie Pearl 

1971 “Toward an Ecological Theory of Value,” Social Policy 2(l):30-38 [ther- 
modynamic economics]. 

Perry, Harry 

1974 “The Gasification of Coal,” Scientific A merican 230(3): 19-25. 

Peterson James T. 

1973 “Energy and the Weather,” Environment 15(8):4-9. 

Plaujohn R. 

1966 The Step to Man (New York: Wiley) [limits of technological scale]. 

Pollard, William G. 

1976 “The Long-range Prospects for Solar Energy,” American Scientist 64:424-429 
[why centralized generation of electricity using solar energy will be imprac- 
tical, if not impossible]. 

Polunin, Nicholas 

1974 “Thoughts on Some Conceivable Ecodisasters,” Environmental Conservation 
1:177-189 [all the small but potentially lethal risks, especially in combina- 

Post, Richard F. 

1971 “Fusion Power: The Uncertain Certainty,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 

, and Stephen F. Post 

1973 “Hywheels,” Scientific American 229(6):17-23. 

, and F. L. Ribe 

1974 “Fusion Reactors as Future Energy Sources,” Science 186:397-407. 

Postel, Sandra 

1990 “Trouble On Tap” in Environment 90/91, reprinted from World Watch, Sep- 
tember/October, 1989, pp. 12-20, ed. John Allen, Annual Editions (Guilford, 
Connecticut: The Dushkin Publishing Group). 

Price, Derek J. de Sofia 

1961 Science Since Babylon (New Haven: Yale) [“diseases” of “big science”]. 



Primack, Joel, and Frank von Hippel 

1974 “Nuclear Reactor Safety: The Origins and Issues of a Vital Debate,” Bulletin of 
the Atomic Scientists 30(8):5-12. 

Prud’homme, Robert K. 

1974 “Automobile Emissions Abatement and Fuels Policy,” American Scientist 

Pryde, Philip R., and Lucy T. Pryde 

1974 “Soviet Nuclear Power: A Different Approach to Nuclear Safety,” Environment 
16 (3): 26-34. 

Rabinowitch, Eugene 

1969 “Responsibility of Scientists in Our Age,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
25(9):2— 3, 26 [an argument — very typical in its rationale— that science and 
technology have abolished scarcity]. 

Ramseier, Rene O. 

1974 “Oil on Ice: How to Melt the Arctic and Warm the World,” Environment 

RAND Corporation 

1973 California's Electric Quandary (3 vols; Santa Monica: RAND). 

RANN (Research Applied to National Needs Program) 

1972 Summary Report of the Cornell Workshop on Energy and the Environment 
(Washington: Government Printing Office). 

Reed, T. B., and R. M. Lemer 

1973 “Methanol: A Versatile Fuel for Immediate Use,” Science 182:1299-1304. 

Renner, Michael 

1991 “Assessing the Military War on the Environment,” in State of the World, 1991, 
ed. Linda Starke (New York: W. W. Norton & Company). 

Rex, Robert W. 

1971 “Geothermal Energy — The Neglected Energy Option,” Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists 27(8):52-56. 

RFF (Resources for the Future) 

1973 Energy Research and Development — Problems and Prospects (Washington: Govern- 
ment Printing Office). 

Rhodes, Richard 

1974 “Los Alamos Revisited,” Harper's, March, pp. 57-64. 

Rice, Richard A. 

1974 “Toward More Transportation with Less Energy,” Technology Review 76(4):45-53. 

Ritchie-Calder, Peter R. 

1970 “Mortgaging the Old Homestead,” Foreign Affairs 48:207-220 [supertanker 

Roberts, Marc J. 

1973 “Is There an Energy Crisis?” Public Interest 31:17-37. 

Robinson, Arthur L. 

1974 “Energy Storage (II): Developing Advanced Technologies,” Science 184:884— 

Robson, Geoffrey 

1974 “Geothermal Electricity Production,” Science 184:371-375. 

Rose, David J. 

1974a “Energy Policy in the U.S.,” Scientific American 230(l):20-29. 

1974b “Nuclear Eclectic Power,” Science 184:351-359. 

Chapter 3 


Rubin, Milton D. 

1974 “Plugging the Energy Sieve,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 30(10):7-17. 
Russell, W.M.S. 

1971 “Population and Inflation,” The Ecologist l(8):4-8. 

SCEP (Study of Critical Environmental Problems) 

1970 Man’s Impact on the Global Environment (Cambridge: MIT). 

Schneider, Stephen H. 

1974 “The Population Explosion: Can It Shake the Climate?” Ambio 3:150- 

, and Roger D. Dennett 

1975 “Climatic Barriers to Long-Term Energy Growth,” Ambio 4:65-74. 
Schumacher, E. E 

1974 Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (New York: Harper and Row). 
Seaborg, Glenn T., and William R. Corliss 

1971 Man and Atom: Building a New World Through Nuclear Technology (New York: 

Shea, Cynthia Pollock 

1989 “Protecting the Ozone Layer” in State of the World, 1989 , ed. Linda Starke 
(New York: W. W. Norton & Company). 


1970 “Some Thoughts on the Nuclear Agio-Industrial Complex,” BioSdence 20:98- 

100 . 

Shogren, Elizabeth 

1990 “4 Years Later, Chernobyl’s Ills Widen,” The Washington Post, 27 April, Al. 
Skinner, Brian J. 

1969 Earth Resources (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall). 

Slesser, Malcolm 

1973 “Energy Analysis in Policy Making,” New Scientist 60:328-330. 

1974 “The Energy Ration,” The Ecologist 4:139-140. 

SMIC (Study of Man’s Impact on Climate) 

1971 Inadvertent Climate Modification (Cambridge: MIT). 

Smith, R. Jeffrey 

1989 “Low-Level Radiation Causes More Deaths Than Assumed, Study Finds,” The 
Washington Post, 20 December, A3. 

Snowden, Donald P. 

1972 “Superconductors for Power Transmission,” Scientific American 226 (4): 84-91. 
Sorensen, Bent 

1975 “Energy and Resources,” Science 189:255-260 [a solar energy economy for 

Spurgeon, David 

1 973 “Natural Power for the Third World,” New Scientist 60:694-697. 

Squires, Arthur M. 

1974 “Coal: A Past and Future King,” Ambio 3:1-14. 

Starr, Chauncey 

1971 “Energy and Power,” Scientific American 225(3)134-144. 

, and Richard Rudman 

1973 “Parameters of Technological Growth,” Science 182:358-364. 

Stein, Richard G. 

1972 “A Matter of Design,” Environment 14(8): 17-20, 25-29. 



Stent, Gunther S. 

1969 The Coming of the Golden Age: A View of the End of Progress (New York: Natural 
History Press). 

Stevens, William K. 

1991 “As Nations Meet on Global Warming, U.S. Stands Alone,” The New York 
Times, 10 September, Cl. 

, 1991 “Danes Link Sunspot Intensity to Global Temperature Rise,” The New York 

Times, 5 November, C4. 

Stever, H. Guyford 

1975 “Whither the NSF? — The Higher Derivatives,” Science 189:264—267 [the 
growing capital intensity of research and development]. 

Strong, Maurice F. 

1973 “One Year After Stockholm: An Ecological Approach to Management,” Foreign 
Affairs 51(4):690— 707. 

Stunkel, Kenneth R. 

1973 “The Technological Solution,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 29(7):42-44. 

Tamplin, Arthur R. 

1973 “Solar Energy,” Environment 15(5): 16-20, 32-34 [one of the best short reviews; 
extensive citations]. 

Taylor, Theodore B., and Charles C. Humpstone 

1973 The Restoration of the Earth (New York: Harper and Row). 


1973 “Appropriate Technology,” a special issue of Impact of Science on Society 

United Nations 

1961 Proceedings of the Conference on New Sources of Energy (6 vols; Rome: United 
Nations) [extensive discussions of wind, tide, and sun as sources of power]. 

Vacca, Roberto 

1973 The Coming Dark Age , trans. J. S. Whale (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday) [an 
alarmist view of the industrial systems intrinsic instability]. 

Wade, Nicholas 

1974 “Windmills: The Resurrection of an Ancient Energy Technology,” Science 

Walsh, John 

1974 “Uranium Enrichment: Both the Americans and Europeans Must Decide 
Where to Get the Nuclear Fuel of the 1980’s,” Science 184:1 160-1161. 


1975 “The Mundell-Laffer Hypothesis — A New View of the World Economy,” 
Public Interest 39:31-52 [scarcity and inflation]. 

Wasserman, Harvey 

1991 “Bush’s Pro-Nuke Energy Strategy.” The Nation, 20 May, 656-660. 

Waters, W.G., II 

1973 “Landing a Man Downtown,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 29(9):34— 35 
[how environmental management differs from space programs]. 

Watt, Kenneth E. F. 

1974 The Titanic Effect: Planningfor the Unthinkable (Stamford, Conn.: Sinauer). 

Weinberg, Alvin M. 

1972 “Science and Trans-Science,” Minerva 10:209-222. 

Chapter 4 


1973 “Technology and Ecology — Is There a Need for Confrontation?” BioScietice 

1974 “Global Effects of Mans Production of Energy,” Science 186:205. 

Weir, David, and Constance Matthiessen 

1990 “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” in Environment 90/91, reprinted from Mother 
Jones, June, 1989, pp. 20-27, Annual Editions (Guildford, Connecticut: The 
Dushkin Publishing Group). 

Weisskopf, Michael 

1991 “Ozone Layer over U.S. Thinning Swiftly,” The Washington Post, 5 April, Al. 

Wentorf, R. H.,Jr., and R. E. Hanneman 

1974 “Thermochemical Hydrogen Generation,” Science 185:311-319. 

Westman, Walter E., and Roger M. Gifford 

1973 “Environmental Impact: Controlling the Overall Level,” Science 181:819-825 
[with an energy currency]. 

Whittemore, E Case 

1973 “How Much in Reserve?” Environment 15(7):16-20, 31— 35. 

Wilkinson, John 

1974 “A Modest Proposal for Recycling Our Junk Heap Society,” Center Report 
7 (3): 7-1 2 [a computer simulation suggests that future living standards will 
resemble those of the early 1900s]. 

Willrich, Mason, and Theodore B. Taylor 

1974 Nuclear Theft: Risks and Safeguards (Cambridge: Ballinger). 

Wilson, Richard 

1973 “Natural Gas Is a Beautiful Thing?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
29(7):35— 40. 

Wind Energy Weekly 

1991 4 June, #403. 

Winsche, W. E., et al. 

1973 “Hydrogen: Its Future Role in the Nations Energy Economy,” Science 180:1325- 

Wolf, Martin 

1974 “Solar Energy Utilization by Physical Methods,” Science 184:382-386. 

Wood, Lowell, and John Nuckolls 

1972 “Fusion Power,” Environment 14(4):29-33. 

World Resources Institute. 

1990 World Resources, 1990-91 in collaboration with the U.N. Environmental 
Programme and the U.N. Development Program. 

Wright, John, and John Syrett 

1975 “Energy Analysis of Nuclear Power,” New Scientist 65:66-67. 

Young, Louise B., and H. Peyton Young 

1974 “Pollution by Electrical Transmission: The Environmental Impact of High 
Voltage Lines,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 30(10):34— 38. 

Chapter 4 

Attah, Ernest B. 

1973 “Racial Aspects of Zero Population Growth,” Science 180:1143-115. 
Barker, Ernst, trans. 

1 962 The Politics of A ristotle (New York: Oxford) . 



Barnett, Larry D. 

1971 “Zero Population Growth, Inc.,” BioScience 21:759-765. 

Bell, Daniel 

1973 The Coming of Post- Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting (New York: 
Basic Books). 

Berlin, Isaiah 

1969 Four Essays on Liberty (New York: Oxford). 

Brown, Harrison 

1954 The Challenge of Man's Future (New York: Viking). 

Buchanan, James 

1969 The Demand and Supply of Public Goods (Chicago: Rand McNally). 

Burch, William R.,Jr. 

1971 Daydreams and Nightmares: A Sociological Essay on the American Environment 
(New York: Harper and Row). 

Buder, Samuel 

1872 Erewhon (New York: Signet, 1 960) . 

Callahan, Daniel J. 

1973 The Tyranny of Survival; and Other Pathologies of Civilized Life (New York: 

Carney, Francis 

1972 “ Schlockology, ” New York Review of Books, June 1 , pp. 26-29. 

Chamberlin, Neil W. 

1970 Beyond Malthus: Population and Power (New York: Basic Books). 

Christy, Francis T.,Jr., and Anthony Scott 

1965 The Common Wealth in Ocean Fisheries (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins). 

Cohen, David 

1973 “Chemical Castration,” New Scientist 57:525-526. 

Comford, Francis M., trans. 

1945 The Republic of Plato (New York: Oxford). 

Crowe, Beryl L. 

1969 “The Tragedy of the Commons Revisited,” Science 166:1 103-1 107. 

Dahl, Robert A. 

1970 After the Revolution? : Authority in a Good Society (New Haven: Yale). 

Delgado, Jose Manuel R. 

1969 Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society (New York: Harper 
and Row). 

Eisner, Thomas, Ari van Tienhaven, and Frank Rosenblatt 

1970 “Population Control, Sterilization, and Ignorance,” Science 167:337. 

Ellul, Jacques 

1967 The Technological Society (rev.; New York: Knopf). 

Elmer-Dewitt, Phillip 

1989 “A Drastic Plan to Banish Smog,” Time, 27 March, 65. 

Fife, Daniel 

1971 “Killing the Goose,” Environment 13(3):20— 27 [the logic of the commons]. 
Forester, E. M. 

1 928 The Eternal Moment (New York: Harcourt, Brace) . 

Fuller, R. Buckminster 

1968 “An Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” in Environment and Change: The 
Next Fifty Years, ed. William R. Ewald, Jr. (Bloomington: Indiana). 

Chapter 4 


1969 “Vertical Is to Live, Horizontal Is to Die,” American Scholar 39(1):27 — 47. 
Geesaman, Donald P., and Dean E. Abrahamson 

1974 “The Dilemma of Fission Power,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 30(9):37-41 
[the extreme security measures a nuclear power economy will require]. 

Global Tomorrow' Coalition 

1990 The Global Ecology Handbook, ed. Walter H. Corson (Boston: Beacon Press). 
Haefele, Edwin T., ed. 

1975 The Governance of Common Property Resources (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins). 
Hardin, Garrett 

1968 “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162:1243-1248. 

1972 Exploring New Ethics for Survival (New York: Viking). 

, ed. 

1969 Population, Evolution, and Birth Control: A Collage of Controversial Ideas (2nd ed.; 
New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Heilbroner, P obert L. 

1974 An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (New York: Norton). 

Hobbes, Thomas 

1651 Leviathan, or the Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth, ecclesiastical and civil , 
ed. H. W. Schneider (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958). 

Holden, Constance 

1973 “Psychosurgery: Legitimate Therapy or Laundered Lobotomy?” Science 

Huxley, Aldous L. 

1 932 Brave New World (New York: Modern Library, 1956). 

1 958 Brave New World Revisited (New York: Harper). 

Illich, Ivan 

1973 Tools for Conviviality (New 7 York: Harper and Row). 

Kahn, Alfred E. 

1966 “The Tyranny of Small Decisions: Market Failures, Imperfections, and the 
Limits of Economics,” Kyklos 19(1):23 — 47 [the logic of the commons]. 
Kahn, Herman, and Anthony J. Wiener 

1968 “Faustian Powers and Human Choice: Some Twenty-First Century Tech- 
nological and Economic Issues” in Environment and Choice, ed. William R. 
Ewald,Jr. (Bloomington: Indiana), pp. 101-131. 

Kass, Leon R. 

1971 “The New Biology: What Price Relieving Mans Estate?” Science 174:779-788. 

1972 “Making Babies — The New Biology and the ‘Old’ Morality,” Public Interest 

Lewis, C. S. 

1 965 The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan). 

Locke, John 

1690 Second Treatise, in Two Treatises of Government , ed. Peter Laslett (New York: New 
American Library, 1965). 

McDermott, John 

1969 “Technology: The Opiate of the Intellectuals,” New York Review of Books, July 
31, pp.25-35. 

Michael, Donald N. 

1970 The Unprepared Society: Planning for a Precarious Future (New York: Harper and 



Morrison, Denton E., Kenneth E. Horseback, and W. Keith Warner 

1974 Environment: A Bibliography of Social Science and Related Literature (Washington: 

1975 Energy: A Bibliography of Social Science and Related Literature (New York: Garland) . 

Myers, Norman 

1975 “The Whaling Controversy,” American Scientist 63:448-455 [an excellent case 
study of the kinds of pressures that promote overexploitation] . 

Odell, Rice 

1975 “How Will We React to an Age of Scarcity?” Conservation Foundation Letter, 
January [a review of many different opinions] . 

Olson, Mancur, Jr. 

1968 The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (New York: 

, and Hans Landsberg, eds. 

1973 The No- Growth Society (New York: N orton) . 

Ophuls, William 

1973 “Leviathan or Oblivion?” in Toward Steady-State Economy, ed. Herman E. Daly 
(New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.), pp. 215-230. 

Orwell, George 

1963 Nineteen Eighty-Four: Text, Sources, Criticism, ed. Irving Howe (New York: 
Harcourt, Brace and World). 

Pirages, Dennis C., and Paul R. Ehrlich 

1974 Ark II: Social Response to Environmental Imperatives (New York: W. H. Freeman 
and Company). 

Popper, Karl R. 

1966 The Open Society, and Its Enemies (2 vols, 5th ed., rev.; Princeton University 

Reich, Charles A. 

1971 The Greening of America (N ew York: Random House) . 

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 

1762 The Social Contract , ed. Charles Frankel (New York: Hafner, 1947). 

Russett, Bruce M., and John D. Sullivan 

1971 “Collective Goods and International Organization,” International Organization 

Schelling, Thomas C. 

1971 “On the Ecology of Micro motive,,” Public Interest 25:61—98. 

Skinner, B. F. 

1971 Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Knopf). 

Smith, Adam 

1776 An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. Edwin Cannan 
(New York: Modern Library, 1 937). 

Speth, J. Gustave, Arthur R. Tamplin, and Thomas B. Cochran 

1974 “Plutonium Recycle: The Fateful Step,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
30(9): 15-22. 

Stillman, Peter G. 

1975 “The Tragedy of the Commons: A Re-Analysis,” Alternatives 4(2): 12— 15. 

Stone, Christopher D. 

1974 Should Trees Have Standing?: Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects (Los Altos, 
Calif.: William Kaufmann). 

Chapter 5 


Susskind, Charles 

1973 Understanding Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins). 

Tuan, Yi-Fu 

1970 “Our Treatment of the Environment in Ideal and Actuality,” American Scientist 
58:244—249 [the Chinese and their environment through history]. 

Wade, Nicholas 

1974 “Sahelian Drought: No Victory for Western Aid,” Science 185:234-237 [how 
an aid program destroyed the traditional controls on a common — with 
catastrophic results]. 

Webb, Walter Prescott 

1952 The Great Frontier (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 

Weinberg, Alvin M. 

1972a “Social Institutions and Nuclear Energy,” Science 177:27-34. 

1972b Review of John Holdren and Philip Herrers, Energy: A Crisis in Power in 
American Scientist 60:775-776. 

1973 “Technology and Ecology — Is There a Need for Confrontation?” BioScience 

White, Lynn, Jr. 

1967 “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, "Science 155:1203-1207. 

Wilkinson, Richard G. 

1973 Poverty and Progress: An Ecological Perspective on Economic Development (New 
York: Praeger). 

Willrich, Mason 

1975 “Terrorists Keep Out!: The Problem of Safeguarding Nuclear Materials in a Worid 
of Malfunctioning People,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 31(5):12-16. 

Wynne— Edwards, V. C. 

1970 “Self-Regulatory Systems in Populations of Animals,” in The Subversive 
Science , ed. Paul Shepard and Daniel McKinley (Boston: Houghton Mif- 
flin), pp. 99-111 [valuable biological perspective on the tragedy of the 

Chapter 5 

Abrahamson, Dean E. 

1974a “Energy: All in the Family,” Environment 16(7):50-52. 

1974b “Energy: Sidestepping NEPA Reviews,” Environment 16(9):39. 

Anderson, Frederick R., and Robert H. Daniels 

1973 NEPA in the Courts: A Legal Analysis of the National Environmental Policy Act 
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins). 

Ayres, Robert U., and Allen V. Kneese 

1969 “Production, Consumption, and Externalities,” American Economic Review 
59:282-297 [Kneese et al. 1970 in a nutshell]. 

Barnett, Harold J., and Chandler Morse 

1963 Scarcity and Growth: The Economics of Natural Resource Availability (Baltimore: 
Johns Hopkins). 

Beckerman, Wilfred 

1974 In Defence of Economic Growth (London: Cape). 

Bell, Daniel 

1971 “The Corporation and Society in the 1970 s,” Public Interest 24:5-32. 



Boguslaw, Robert 

1965 The Neu> Utopians (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall). 

Boulding, Kenneth E. 

1949 “Income or Welfare?*’ Review of Economic Studies 17:77-86. 

1966 “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth,” in Environmental 
Quality in a Growing Economy , ed. Henry Jarrett (Baltimore: Johns Hop- 
kins), pp. 3-14. 

1967 “Fun and Games with the Gross National Product — The Role of Misleading 
Indicators in Social Policy,” in The Environmental Crisis , ed. Harold W. 
Helfrichjr. (New Haven: Yale), pp. 157-170. 

1970 Economics as a Science (New York: McGraw-Hill), Chap. 7. 

Brooks, Harvey, and Raymond Bowers 

1971 “The Assessment of Technology” in Man and the Ecosphere , ed. Paul R. Ehrlich, 
John P. Holdren, and Richard W. Holm (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Carter, Luther J. 

1973 “Alaska Pipeline: Congress Deaf to Environmentalists,” Science 179:1310- 

Clark, Colin W. 

1973 “The Economics of Overexploitation,” Science 181:630-634. 

Commoner, Barry 

1973 “Trains into Flowers,” Harper's , December, pp. 78-86 [why trains cannot 
compete with the auto]. 

Conservation Foundation 

1971 “Indiscriminate Economic Growth, Measured with Little Regard for 
Environmental Costs and Social Well-Being, Is Challenged,” CF Letter , 

1972 “NEPA Challenges the Nations Plans and Priorities — But Progress Is Slow, 
and Some Are Reacting Against It,” CF Letter ; May 

Culbertson, John M. 

1971 Economic Development: An Ecological Approach (New York: Knopf). 

Dales, J. H. 

1968 Pollution, Property and Prices: An Essay in Policy-Making and Economics (Univer- 
sity of Toronto Press). 

Daly, Herman E., ed. 

1973 Toward a Steady-State Economy (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 

Dolan, Edwin G. 

1971 TANSTAAFL: The Economic Strategy for Ecologic Crisis (New York: Holt, 
Rinehart and Winston). 

Edel, Matthew 

1973 Economies and the Environment (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice^Hall). 

Freeman, A. Myrick, and Robert H. Haveman 

1972 “Clean Rhetoric and Dirty Water,” Public Interest 28:51-65. 

, Robert H. Haveman, and Allen V. Knees e 

1973 The Economics of Environmental Policy (New York: Wiley). 

Gabor, Dennis 

1972 The Mature Society (London: Seeker and Warburg). 

Galbraith, John K. 

1958 The Affluent Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 

1967 The New Industrial State (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 

Chapter 5 


Garvey, Gerald 

1972 Energy, Ecology, Economy: A Framework for Environmental Policy (New York: 

Gillette, Robert 

1972 “National Environmental Policy Act: Signs of Backlash Are Evident,” Science 
176: 30-33. 

Hagevik, George 

1971 “Legislating for Air Quality Management,” in The Politics of Ecosuicide , ed. 
Leslie L. Roos, Jr. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), pp. 311-345. 
[Excellent on the difficulties of internalizing costs.] 

Hardesty, John, Norris C. Clement, and Clinton E. Jencks 

1971 “The Political Economy of Environmental Disruption,” in Economic Grou>th 
vs. the Environment , ed. Warren E.Johnson and John Hardesty (Belmont, Calif.: 
Wadsworth), pp. 85—106. 

Hardin, Garrett 

1972 Exploring New Ethics for Survival (New York: Viking). 

Harnik, Peter 

1973 “The Biggest Going-Out-of-Business Sale of All Time,” Environmental Action, 
September l,pp. 9-12. 

Hays, Samuel P. 

1959 Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency (Cambridge: Harvard). 

Heller, Walter W. 

1973 Economic Growth and Environmental Quality: Collision, or Co-Existence (Morris- 
town, N.J.: General Learning Press). 

Henderson, Hazel 

1976 “The End ofEconomics,” The Ecologist 6:137-146 [a first-rate critique by an 
important radical economist; a valuable supplement to the argument of this 
chapter, with useful references to her own previous work and to the work of 

Hirschman, Albert 0. 

1967 Development Projects Observed (Washington: Brookings Institute) [the hidden 
costs of development]. 

Kapp, K. William 

1950 The Social Costs of Private Enterprise (New York: Schocken, 1971). 

Klausener,Samuel Z. 

1971 On Man and His Environment (San Francisco :Jossey-B ass) [an attempt to come 
to terms with some of the sociological externalities of development]. 

Kneese, Allen V. 

1973 “The Faustian Bargain: Benefit-Cost Analysis and Unscheduled Events in the 
Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” Resources 44:1-5. 

, Robert U. Ayres, and Ralph C. d’Arge 

1970 Economics and Environment: A Materials Balance Approach (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins) 

Kraus, James 

1974 “American Environmental Case Law: An Update,” Alternatives 3(2):25— 30. 

Krieger, Martin H. 

1973 “What’s Wrong with Plastic Trees,” Science 179:446-455 [the perversities of 
pure economic analysis]. 

Krieth, Frank 

1973 “Lack of Impact,” Environment 15(l):26-33. 



Miller, G. Tyler 

1990 Living in the Environment (6th ed.; Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing 

Mishan, EzraJ. 

1969 Technology and Growth: The Price We Pay (New York: Praeger). 

1971 “On Making the Future Safe for Mankind,” Public Interest 24:33-61 . 

Novick, Sheldon 

1974 “Nuclear Breeders,” Environment 16(6):6-15. 

Odell, Rice 

1973 “Environmental Politicking — Business as Usual,” Conservation Foundation Let- 
ter, August. 

Passell, Peter, and Leonard Ross 

1973 The Retreat from Riches: Affluence and Its Enemies (New York: Viking). 

Pearce, David 

1973 “Is Ecology Elitist?” The Ecologist 3:61-63. 

Polanyi, Karl 

1944 The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon). 

Ridker, Ronald G. 

1972 “Population and Pollution in the United States,” Science 176:1085-1090. 

Rothman, Harry 

1972 Murderous Providence: A Study of Pollution in Industrial Societies (New York: 

Ruff, Larry E. 

1970 “The Economic Common Sense of Pollution,” Public Interest 19:69-85. 

Sachs, Ignacy 

1971 “Approaches to a Political Economy of Environment,” Social Science Informa- 
tion 5(5):47-58 [a very perceptive brief overview of the clash between market 
traditionalists and the new economic holists]. 

Stone, Richard 

1972 “The Evaluation of Pollution: Balancing Gains and Losses,” Minerva 10:412— 

Tribe, Lawrence H. 

1971 “Legal Frameworks for the Assessment and Control of Technology,” Minerva 

Tsuru, Shigeto 

1971 “In Place of GNP,” Social Science Information 10(4):7-21 [an especially good 
discussion of the drawbacks of GNP as an indicator]. 


1973 “The Social Assessment of Technology,” special issue of International Social 
Science Journal 25(3). 

Weisskopf, Walter A. 

1971 Alienation and Economics (New York: Dutton). 

Wildavsky, Aaron 

1967 “Aesthetic Power or the Triumph of the Sensitive Minority over the 
Vulgar Mass: A Political Analysis of the New Economics,” Daedalus 

Wilkinson, Richard G. 

1973 Poverty and Progress: An Ecological Perspective on Economic Development (New 
York: Praeger). 

Chapter 6 


Winner, Langdon 

1972 “On Controlling Technology,” Public Policy 20:35-59. 

Wo 11m an, Nathaniel 

1967 “The New Economics of Resources,” Daedalus 96:1099-1 1 14. 

Chapter 6 

Abelson, Philip H. 

1972a “Environmental Quality,” Science 177:655. 

1972b “Federal Statistics,” Science 175:1315. 

Bachrach, Peter 

1967 The Theory of Democratic Elitism: A Critique (Boston: Litde, Brown). 

Bell, Daniel 

1974 “The Public Household — On ‘Fiscal Sociology’ and the Liberal Society,” 
Public Interest 37:29-68. 

Brown, Harrison, James Bonner, and John Weir 

1963 The Next Hundred Years (New York: Viking) [esp. Chaps. 14-17, which discuss 
manpower] . 

Bruce— Briggs, B. 

1974 “Against the Neo-Malthusians,” Commentary July, pp. 25-29. 

Burch, William R.,Jr. 

1971 Daydreams and Nightmares: A Sociological Essay on the American Environment 
(New York: Harper and Row). 

Caldwell, Lynton K. 

1971 Environment: A Challenge to Modem Society (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday). 

, and Toufiq A. Siddiqi 

1974 Environmental Policy, Law and Administration: A Guide to Advanced Study 
(Bloomington: University of Indiana School of Public and Environmental 

Carpenter, Richard A. 

1972 “National Goals and Environmental Laws,” Technology Review 74(3):58-63. 

Carter, Luther J. 

1973a “Environment: A Lesson for the People of Plenty,” Science 182:1323-1324. 

1973b “Environmental Law (I): Maturing Field for Lawyers and Scientists,” Science 

1973c “Environmental Law (II): A Strategic Weapon Against Degradation?” Science 

1973d “Pesticides: Environmentalists Seek New Victory in a Frustrating War,” Science 

1974a “Cancer and the Environment (I): A Creaky System Grinds On,” Science 

1974b “Con Edison: Endless Storm King Dispute Adds to Its Troubles,” Science 

1974c “The Energy Bureaucracy: The Pieces Fall into Place,” Science 185:44-45. 

1974d “Energy: Cannibalism in the Bureaucracy,” Science 186:511. 

1974e “Pollution and Public Health: Taconite Case Poses Major Test,” Science 

1975a “The Environment: A ‘Mature’ Cause in Need of a Lift,” Science 187:45-48. 



1975b The Florida Experience: Land and Water Policy in a Growth State (Baltimore: 
Johns Hopkins). 

Cohn, Victor 

1975 “The Washington Energy Show,” Technology Review 77(3): 8, 68. 

Conservation Foundation 

1972 “Wanted: A Coordinated, Coherent National Energy Policy Geared to the 
Public Interest,’' CF Letter, No. 6-72. 

Cooley, Richard A., and Geoffrey Wandesforde-Smith, eds. 

1970 Congress and the Environment (Seattle: Washington). 

Crossland, Janice 

1974 “Cars, Fuel, and Pollution,” Environment 16(2): 15 — 27. 

Dahl, Robert A. 

1970 After the Revolution?: Authority in a Good Society (New Haven: Yale). 

Davies, Barbara S., and Clarence J. Davies, III 

1975 The Politics of Pollution (2nd ed.; New York: Pegasus). 

Davis, David H. 

1974 Energy Politics (New York: St. Martin’s). 

Dexter, Lewis A. 

1969 The Sociology and Politics of Congress (Chicago: Rand McNally). 

Downs, Anthony 

1972 “Up and Down with Ecology — The ‘Issue- Attention Cycle,’ ” Public Interest 


1968 Public Policymaking Reexamined (San Francisco: Chandler). 

Edelman, Murray 

1964 The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Urbana: Illinois). 

Forrester, Jay W. 

1971 World Dynamics (Cambridge: Wright- Allen) [esp. Chaps. 1 and 7 for a radical 
critique of nonsystematic, incremental decision making]. 

Forsythe, Dali W. 

1974 “An Energy-Scarce Society: The Politics and Possibilities,” Working Papers fora 
New Society 2(1):3 — 12 [an excellent short analysis]. 

Gillette, Robert 

1973a “Energy: The Muddle at the Top,” Science 182:1319-1321. 

1973b “Western Coal: Does the Debate Follow Irreversible Commitment?” Science 

1975 “In Energy Impasse, Conservation Keeps Popping Up,” Science 187:42-45. 
Goldstein, Paul, and Robert Ford 

1973 “On the Control of Air Quality: Why the Laws Don’t Work,” Bulletin of the 
Atomic Scientists 29(6):31— 34. 

Green, Charles S., Ill 

1973 “Politics, Equality and the End of Progress,” Alternatives 2(2):4-9. 

Haefele, Edwin T. 

1974 Representative Government and Environmental Management (Baltimore: Johns 

Hartz, Louis 

1955 The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought 
Since the Revolution (New York: Harcourt, Brace). 

Chapter 6 


Henning, Daniel H. 

1974 Environmental Policy and Administration (New York: American Elsevier). 

Hirschman, Albert 0. 

1970 Exit, Voice and Loyalty (Cambridge: Harvard) [esp. Chap. 8 on frontier-style 
decision making and problem avoidance]. 

Horowitz, Irving L. 

1972 “The Environmental Cleavage: Social Ecology versus Political Economy,” 
Social Theory and Practice 2(1) : 1 25 — 134. 

Jacobsen, Sally 

1974 “Anti-Pollution Backlash in Illinois: Can a Tough Protection Program Sur- 
vive?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 30(l):39-44. 

Jones, Charles O. 

1975 Clean Air: The Policies and Polities of Pollution Control (University of Pittsburgh 

Kohlmeier, Louis M.,Jr. 

1969 The Regulators: Watchdog Agencies and the Public Interest (New York: Harper and 

Kraft, Michael 

1972 “Congressional Attitudes Toward the Environment,” Alternatives l(4):27-37 
[congressional avoidance of the environmental issue]. 

1974 “Ecological Politics and American Government: A Review Essay,” in Nagel 
1974, pp. 139-159 [the best critical review of the political science literature in 
the light of environmental problems]. 

Lecht,L. A. 

1966 Goals, Priorities and Dollars (New York: Free Press). 

1969 Manpower Needs for National Goals in the 1970's (New York: Praeger). 

Lewis, Richard 

1972 The Nuclear Power Rebellion (NewYork:Viking). 

Lindblom, Charles E. 

1965 The Intelligence of Democracy: Decisionmaking Through Mutual Adjustment (New 
York: Free Press). 

1969 “The Science of ‘Muddling Through,’ " Public Administration Review 19(2):79-88. 

Little, Charles E. 

1973 “The Environment of the Poor: Who Gives a Damn?” Conservation Foundation 
Letter, July. 

Loveridge, Ronald O. 

1971 “Political Science and Air Pollution: A Review and Assessment of the Litera- 
ture,” in Air Pollution and the Social Sciences , ed. Paul B. Downing (New York: 
Praeger), pp. 45-85 [why we are not coping with the problem]. 

1972 “The Environment: New Priorities and Old Politics,” in People and Politics in 
Urban Society , ed. Harlan Hahn (Los Angeles: Sage), pp. 499-529. 

Lowi, Theodore 

1 969 The End of Liberalism: Ideology, Policy, and the Crisis of Public Authority (NewYork: 

McConnell, Grant 

1 966 Private Power and American Democracy (New York: Knopf). 

McLane, James 

1974 “Energy Goals and Institutional Reform,” The Futurist 8:239-242. 



Michael, Donald N. 

1968 The Unprepared Society: Planning for a Precarious Future (New York: Harper and 

Miller, John C. 

1957 Origins of the American Revolution (Stanford University Press). 

Moorman, James W. 

1974 “Bureaucracy v.The Law,” Sierra Club Bulletin 59(9) :7— 10 [how agencies evade 
or flout their legal responsibilities]. 

Murphy, Earl F. 

1967 Governing Nature (Chicago: Quadrangle). 

Nagel, Stuart S., ed. 

1974 Environmental Politics (New York: Praeger). 

Nelkin, Dorothy 

1974 “The Role of Experts in a Nuclear Siting Controversy,” Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists 30 (9): 29-3 6. 

Neuhaus, Richard 

1971 In Dtfense of People (New York: Macmillan) . 
de Nevers, Noel 

1973 “Enforcing the Clean Air Act of 1970,” Scientific American 228(6): 14-21. 
Odell, Rice 

1975a “Automobiles Keep Posing New Dilemmas,” Conservation Foundation Letter , 

1975b “Should Americans Be Pried Out of Their Cars?” Conservation Foundation 
Letter, April. 

Pirages, Dennis C., and Paul R. Ehrlich 

1974 Ark II: Social Response to Environmental Imperatives (New York: W. H. Freeman 
and Co.). 

Platt, John 

1969 “What We Must Do,” Science 166:1115-1121. 

Potter, David M. 

1954 People Of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (University of 

Quarles, John 

1974 “Fighting the Corporate Lobby,” Environmental Action, December 7, pp. 3—6 
[how the political and other resources of corporations overwhelm the en- 
vironmental regulators]. 

Quigg, Philip W. 

1974 “Energy Shortage Spurs Expansion of Nuclear Fission,” World Environment 
Newsletter in SIR World, June 29, pp. 21-22. 

Rauber, Paul 

1991 “O Say, Can You See,” Sierra, July /August, 24-29. 

Roos, Leslie L.,Jr., ed. 

1971 The Politics of Ecosuicide (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston). 

Rose, David J. 

1974 “Energy Policy in the U.S.,” Scientific American 230(1) :20— 29. 

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 

1973 The Politics of Environmental Concern (New York: Praeger). 

Ross, Charles R. 

1970 “The Federal Government as an Inadvertent Advocate of Environmental 

Chapter 7 


Degradation,” in The Environmental Crisis , ed. Harold W. Helfiich,Jr. (New 
Haven: Yale), pp. 171-187. 

Ross, Douglas, and Harold Wolman 

1971 ‘‘Congress and Pollution — The Gentleman’s Agreement,” in Economic Growth 
vs. the Environment , ed Warren A. Johnson and John Hardesty (Belmont, Calif.: 
Wadsworth), pp. 134-144. 

Schaeffer, Robert 

1990 “CarSick,” Greenpeace, May /June, 13-17. 

Schick, Allen 

1971 “Systems Politics and Systems Budgeting,” in Roos 1971, pp. 135-158. 

Shapley, Deborah 

1973 “Auto Pollution: Research Group Charged with Conflict of Interest,” Science 

Shubik, Martin 

1967 “Irfformation, Rationality, and Free Choice in a Future Democratic Society,” 
Daedalus 96:771-778. 

Sills, David L. 

1975 “The Environmental Movement and Its Critics,” Human Ecology 3:1-41. 

Smith, Adam 

1776 An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. Edwin Cannan 
(New York: Modern Library, 1937). 

Smith, James N., ed. 

1974 Environmental Quality and Social Justice (Washington, D.C.: Conservation Foun- 
dation) . 

Sprout, Harold, and Margaret Sprout 

1971 Ecology and Politics in America: Some Issues and Alternatives (New York: General 
Learning Press) . 

1972 “National Priorities: Demands, Resources, Dilemmas,” World Politics 24:293- 

Weisskopf, Michael 

1991 “Rule-Making Process Could Soften Clean Air Act,” The Washington Post, 21 
September, Al. 

White, Lawrence J. 

1973 “The Auto Pollution Muddle,” Public Interest 32:97-1 12. 

Wolff, Robert Paul 

1 968 The Poverty of Liberalism (Boston: Beacon). 

Chapter 7 


1974 “Take Water and Heat from Third World,” New Scientist 62:549. 

d’Arge, Ralph C., and Allen V. Kneese 

1972 “Environmental Quality and International Trade,” International Organization 

Banks, Fred 

1974 “Copper is Not Oil,” New Scientist 63:255-257. 

Barraclough, Geoffrey 

1975a “The Great World Crisis,” New York Review of Books, January 23, pp. 20—30. 



1975b “Wealth and Power: The Politics of Food and Oil,” New York Review of Books, 
August 7, pp. 23-30. 

Baxter, William F., et al. 

1973 Special issue on Stockholm Conference, Stanford Journal of International Studies 

Bennett, John W., Sukehiro Hasegawa, and Solomon B. Levine 

1973 “Japan: Are There Limits to Growth?” Environment 1 5(10):6 — 1 3. 

Bergsten, C. Fred 

1974 “The New Era in World Commodity Markets,” Challenge 17 (4): 34-^12. 
Boserup, Mogens 

1975 “Sharing Is a Myth,” Development Forum 3(2):l-2. 

Brower, David, et al. 

1972 “The Stockholm Conference,” Not Man Apart 2(7): 1-11. 

Brown, Lester R. 

1972 World Without Borders (New York: Random House). 

Brown, Seyom, and Larry L. Fabian 

1974 “Diplomats at Sea,” Foreign Affairs 52:301-321. 

Caldwell, Lynton K. 

1972 In Defense of Earth: International Protection of the Biosphere (Bloomington: Indiana). 
Castro, Joao A. de A. 

1972 “Environment and Development: The Case of the Developing Countries,” 
International Organization 26:401—416. 

CESI (Center for Economic and Social Information) 

1974 “Oil and the Poor Countries,” Environment 1 6(2) :1 0—1 4. 

Clawson, Marion 

1971 “Economic Development and Environmental Impact: International Aspects,” 
Social Science Information 10(4):23-43. 

Connelly, Philip, and Robert Perlman 

1975 The Politics of Scarcity: Resource Conflicts in International Relations (New York: 

Cox, Richard H. 

1960 Locke on War and Peace (Oxford: University Press). 


1991 “Asking How Much is Enough,” in State of the World 1991, ed. Linda Starke 
(New York: W. W. Norton & Company). 

Enloe, Cynthia 

1975 The Politics of Pollution in Comparative Perspective: Ecology and Power in 
Four Nations (New York: McKay). 


1973 Stockholm ’72: A Bibliography of Selected Post-Conference Articles and Documents on 
the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Green Bay, Wise.: 

Epstein, WiUiam 

1975 “The Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” Scientific American 232(4):18-33. 
Falk, Richard A. 

1971 This Endangered Planet (New York: Random House) . 

1975 “Toward a New World Order: Modest Methods and Drastic Visions,” in On 
the Creation of a Just World Order: Preferred Worlds for the 1990’s, ed. Saul H. 
Mendlovitz (New York: Free Press), pp. 253—300. 

Chapter 7 


Farvar, M. Taghi, and Theodore N. Soule 

1973 International Development and the Human Environment: An Annotated Bibliography 
(Riverside, N.J.: Macmillan Information). 

Finsterbusch, Gail W. 

1973 “International Cooperation Is Picking Up Steam,’' Conservation Foundation 
Letter, September. 

Flavin, Christopher 

1990 “Last Road to Shangri-La,” World Watch, July- August, 18-26. 

Fyo dorov, Yevge ny 

1973 “Against the Limits of Growth,” New Scientist 57:431-432 [abridged from 
Kommunist, No. 14]. 

Goldman, Marshall I. 

1970 “The Convergence of Environmental Disruption,” Science 170:37-42 [a 
synopsis of Goldman 1972]. 

1972 The Spoils of Progress: Environmental Pollution in the Soviet Union (Cambridge: 

Goldsmith, Edward, et al. 

1972 “Critique of the Stockholm Conference,” The Ecologist 2(6): 1-42. 

Graubard, Stephen R., et al. 

1975 “The Oil Crisis: In Perspective,” special issue of Daedalus 104(4). 

Hardin, Garrett 

1974 “Living in a Lifeboat,” BioScience 24:561-568 [a controversial proposal for 
American ecological autarky]. 

Harding James A. 

1974 “Ecology as Ideology,” Alternatives 3(4): 18-22. 

Heilbroner, Robert L. 

1974 An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (New York: Norton). 

Holt, S. J. 

1974 “Prescription for the Mediterranean: International Cooperation for a Sick 
Sea,” Environment 16(4):28-33. 

Kay, David A., and Eugene B. Skolnikoff, eds. 

1972 World Eco-Crisis: International Organizations in Response (Madison: Wisconsin). 
Kelley, Donald, Kenneth R. Stunkel, and Richard R. Wescott 

1976 The Economic Superpowers and the Environment (N ew York: W H. Freeman and Co.) . 
Kiseleva, Galina 

1974 “A Soviet View: The Earth and Population,” Development Forum 2(4):9. 
Kristoferson, Lars, ed. 

1975 Special issue on “War and Environment,” Ambio 4:178-244 [a first-rate 
treatment] . 

Laurie, Peter, et al. 

1975 “Towards a Self-Sufficient Britain?” symposium in New Scientist 65:690, 695— 

MacDonald, Gordon J. 

1975 “Weather Modification as a Weapon,” Technology Review 78(l):57-63. 

Mikesell, Raymond F. 

1974 “More Third World Cartels Ahead?” Challenge 17(5):24— 31 . 

Miller, Willard M. 

1972 “Radical Environmentalism,” Not Man Apart 2(11):14— 15 [socialism as the 
answer] . 



Nash, A. E. Keir 

1970 “Pollution, Population and the Cowboy Economy/' Journal of Comparative 
Administration 2:109—128. 

Omo— Fadaka,Jimoh 

1973 “The Tanzanian Way of Effective Development,” Impact of Science on Society 

Packer, Arnold 

1975 “Living with Oil at $10 per Barrel,” Challenge 1 7(6):1 7 — 25. 

Powell, David E. 

1971 “The Social Costs of Modernization: Ecological Problems in the USSR,” 

World Politics 23:618-634. 

Pryde, Philip R. 

1972 Conservation in the Soviet Union (New York: Cambridge). 

Quigg, Philip W. 

1974 “The Consumption Dilemma,” World Environment Newsletter in SR/ World, 
November 2, p. 49. 

Ritchie-Calder, Peter R. 

1974 “Caracas — ‘Smash and Grab,’ ” Center Magazine 7(6):35-38. 

Rothman, Harry 

1972 Murderous Providence.: A Study of Pollution in Industrial Societies (New York: 

Rotkirch, Holger 

1974 “Claims to the Ocean: Freedom of the Sea for Whom?” Environment 16(5):34-41. 
Shapley, Deborah 

1973 “Ocean Technology: Race to Seabed Wealth Disturbs More than Fish,” Science 

1975 “Now, a Draft Sea Law Treaty — But What Comes After?” Science 188:918. 
Shields, Linda P., and Marvin C. Ott 

1974 “Environmental Decay and International Politics: The Uses of Sovereignty,” 
Environmental Affairs 3:743-767. 


1973 “The Suitability of Technology in Contemporary China,” Impact of Science on 
Society 23:341-352. 

1975 “Resources and Environment in China,” Ambio 4:112—119. 

Sivard, Ruth L. 

1975 “Let Them Eat Bullets!” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 31(4):6-10. 

Skolnikoff, Eugene B. 

1971 “Technology and the Future Growth of International Organizations,” Technol- 
ogy Review 73(8):39-47. 

Slocum, Marianna 

1974 “Soviet Energy: An Internal Assessment,” Technology Review 77(1) :1 7-33. 
Spengler, Joseph J. 

1969 “Return to Thomas Hobbes?” South Atlantic Quarterly 68:443-453. 

Sprout, Harold, and Margaret Sprout 

1971 Toward a Politics of the Planet Earth (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold). 
Staines, Andrew 

1974 “Digesting the Raw Materials Threat,” New Scientist 61:609-611. 

Syer, G. N. 

1971 “Marx and Ecology,” The Ecologist 1(1 6): 19-21. 

Chapter 8 


Tinker, Jon, et al. 

1975a “CocoyocrThe New Economics,” New Scientist 67:529-531. 

1975b “Cocoyoc Revisited,” New Scientist 67:480-483 [Third World demands for 
fundamental reform of the world system]. 

1975c “World Environment: What’s Happening at UNEP?” New Scientist 66:600- 


1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment: A Guide to the Conference 
Bibliography (New York: UNIPUB). 

Utton, Albert E., and Daniel H. Henning, eds. 

1973 Environmental Policy: Concepts and International Implications (New York: 

Wade, Nicholas 

1974 “Raw Materials: U.S. Grows More Vulnerable to Third World Cartels,” Science 

Walsh, John 

1974 “UN Conferences: Topping Any Agenda Is the Question of Development,” 
Science 185:1143-1144, 1192-1193. 

Westing, Arthur H. 

1974 “Arms Control and the Environment: Proscription of Ecocide,” Bulletin of the 
Atomic Scientists 30(1):24— 27. 

Wilson, Carroll L. 

1973 “A Plan for Energy Independence,” Foreign Affairs 51:657-675. 

Wilson, Thomas W.,Jr. 

1971 International Environmental Action: A Global Survey (Cambridge: Dunellen). 

Woodhouse, Edward J. 

1972 “Re— Visioning the Future of the Third World: An Ecological Perspective on 
Development,” World Politics 25:1-33. 

Yablokov, Alexei, et al. 

1991 “Russia: Gasping for Breath, Choking in Waste, Dying Young,” trans. 
Klose, Eliza K., The Washington Post , 18 August, C3 [adapted from Russian 
Gazette ] . 

Chapter 8 

Barash, David P. 

1973 “The Ecologist as Zen Master,” American Midland Naturalist 89:214-217. 
Bookchin, Murray 

1971 Post-Scarcity A narchism (Berkeley: Ramparts Press) . 

Boulding, Kenneth E. 

1964 The Meaning of the Twentieth Century: The Great Transition (New York: Harper 
and Row). 

Burch, William R.Jr. 

1971 Daydreams and Nightmares: A Sociological Essay on the American Environment 
(New York: Harper and Row). 

Callenbach, Ernest 

1975 Ecotopia (Berkeley: Banyan Tree Books). 

Churchman, C. West 

1 968 The Systems Approach (New York: Dell) . 



Colwell, Thomas B. , Jr. 

1969 “The Balance of Nature: A Ground of Human Values,” Main Currents in 
Modem Thought 26(2):46-52. 

Dasmann, Raymond F. 

1974 “Conservation, Counter-culture, and Separate Realities,” Environmental Con- 
servation 1:133-137. 

Doctor, Adi H. 

1975 “Gandhi s Political Philosophy,” The Ecologist 5:300-321 [a succinct summary, 
with copious excerpts from Gandhi s own writings] . 

van Dresser, Peter 

1972 A Landscape for Humans (Albuquerque: Biotechnic Press). 

Dubos, Rene 

1968 So Human an Animal (New York: Scribners). 

1972 A God Within (New York: Scribners). 

Easterlin, Richard A. 

1973 “Does Money Buy Happiness?” Public Interest 30:3-10. 

Goldsmith, Edward, et al. 

1972 “A Blueprint for Survival,” The Ecologist 2(1): 1-43 [a concrete plan for a 
minimal, frugal steady-state society]. 

Huxley, Aldous 

1962 Island (New York: Harper and Row). 

Illich, Ivan 

1971 Deschooling Society (New York: Harper and Row). 

1973 Tools for Conviviality (New York: Harper and Row). 

1974a Energy and Equity (London: Calder and Boyars). 

1974b “Energy and Social Disruption,” The Ecologist 4:49-52. 

Iyer, Raghavan 

1973 The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi (New York: Oxford). 

Kateb, George 

1973 Utopia and Its Enemies (New York: Schocken). 

Keynes, John Maynard 

1971 “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” in Economic Growth vs. the 
Environment, ed. Warren A. Johnson and John Hardesty (Belmont, Calif.: 
Wadsworth), pp. 189-193. 

Koch, Adrienne 

1964 The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson (Chicago: Quadrangle). 

Kozlovsky, Daniel G. 

1974 An Ecological and Evolutionary Ethic (Englewood Clifis, N.J.: Prentice-Hall). 
Kropotkin, Peter 

1899 Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, ed. Colin Ward (New York: Harper 
and Row, 1975). 


1 958 Tao Teh King, ed. Archie J. Bahm (New York: Frederick Ungar) . 

Laszlo, Ervin 

1972 The Systems View of the World: The Natural Philosophy of the New Developments in 
the Sciences (New York: Braziller). 

Leiss, William 

1972 The Domination of Nature (New York: Braziller). 

Chapter 8 


Leopold, Aldo 

1968 A Sand County Almanac (New York: Oxford). 

Levi-Strauss, Claude 

1966 The Savage Mind (University of Chicago Press). 

Lindner, Staffan B. 

1970 The Harried Leisure Class (New York: Columbia). 

Livingston, John A. 

1973 One Cosmic Instant: Man’s Fleeting Supremacy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 
McKinley, Daniel 

1970 “Lichens — Mirror to the Universe,” Audubon 72(6):51-54. 

Maslow, Abraham H. 

1966 The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance (New York: Harper and Row). 

1971 The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (New York: Viking). 

Marx, Karl 

1 844 Tht Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1 844, ed. Dirk J. Struik (New York: 
International, 1964). 

Marx, Leo 

1964 The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New 
York: Oxford) . 

1970 “American Institutions and Ecological Ideals,” Science 170:945-952. 
Meekerjoseph W. 

1974 The Comedy of Survival: Studies in Literary Ecology (New York: Scribners). 

Mill ,J. S. 

1871 Principles of Political Economy, ed. W. J. Ashley (New York: Sentry, 1 965) . 

More, Thomas 

1516 Utopia, ed. H. V. S. Ogden (New York: Meredith, 1949). 

Mumford, Lewis 

1961 The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (New York: 
Harcourt, Brace and World). 

1 967 The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development (New York:Harcourt, 
Brace and World). 

1970 The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power (New York: Harcourt Brace 
Jovanovich) . 

1973 Interpretations and Forecasts (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). 

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein 

1968 The Encounter of Man and Nature: Tl\e Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man (London: 
Allen and Unwin). 

Passmore, John 

1 974 Man ’s Responsibility for Nature (New York: Scribners) . 

Roszak, Theodore 

1969 The Making of a Counter Culture: Refections on the Technocratic Society and Its 
Youthful Opposition (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday). 

1973 Where the Wasteland Ends: Politics and Transcendence in Postindustrial Society 
(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday). 

Sahlins, Marshall 

1970 Stone- Age Economics (Chicago :Aldine- Atherton). 

Schumacher, E. F. 

1 973 Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered (New York: Harper and Row) . 



1974 “Message from the Universe,’* The Ecologist 4:318-320. 

Shepard, Paul 

1973 The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game (New York: Scribners). 

, and Daniel McKinley, eds. 

1969 The Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of Man (Boston: Houghton 

Sibley, Mulford Q. 

1973 “The Relevance of Classical Political Theory for Economy, Technology, and 
Ecology,” Alternatives 2(2): 14— 35. 

Slater, PhilipE. 

1970 The Pursuit of Loneliness: American Culture at the Breaking Point (Boston: 

1974 Earthwalk (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday). 

Smith, Adam 

1792 The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in The Works of Adam Smith, vol. I (Aalen, W. 
Germany: O. Zeller, 1963). 

Snyder, Gary 

1969 Earth House Hold (New York: New Directions). 

1974 Turtle Island (New York: New Directions). 

Stavrianos, L. S. 

1976 The Promise of the Coming Dark Age (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.). 
Taylor, Gordon Rattray 

1974 Rethink: Radical Proposals to Save a Disintegrating World (Baltimore: Penguin). 
Thoreau, Henry David 

1854 Walden, in The Portable Thoreau, ed. Carl Bode (New York: Viking, 1964). 
Wagar, W. Warren 

1971 Building the City of Man: Outlines of a World Civilization (New York: Grossman). 
Watt, Kenneth E. F. 

1974 The Titanic Effect: Planningfor the Unthinkable (Stamford, Conn.: Sinauer). 
White, Lynn, Jr. 

1967 “The Historical Roots of Our E cologic Crisis,” Science 155:1203-1207. 



Hume and infinite, 9, 1 1 
political liberty and, 191 
social changes and ecological, 190 
accidents, risks of industrial, 152, 170 
acid rain 

as air pollutant, 138 
fuel burning and, 87 
ozone combined with, 139 
agrarian society, 297, 303 
agreements, international, 276 
agribusiness biotechnology, 58 
efficiency, 39 
pollution, 61 

revolution, ecosystems and, 32 
See also agriculture 

climate and weather as restraints, 62 
costs of intensification of, 56 
crops and, 60 

crop yield, limits to, 25, 58 
ecological limits to, 60 
energy subsidy of, 39 
organic, 64 
pest problems of, 25 
technology and industrial, 64 
water pollution and, 146 
traditional, 37 
tropical ecosystems and, 35 
See also farming; agricultural 
agroforestry, tropical, 132 

air pollution, 136 
control failures, 137 
treaties, 276 

alternative agriculture. See organic farming 
American Lung Association, The, on air 
pollution, 138 

American. See United States 
anthropengenic subclimax, 31,34 
anthropocentric trend, 33 
aquaculture. See mariculture 
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, oil 
drilling in, 84 

Aristotle, ideas of, 8, 12, 190, 192 
Atomic Energy Commission, 92 
authority in the steady state, 285 
automobile. See motor vehicles 

Bacon, Francis, on nature, 164 
Bhutan, sustainable development in, 263 
biogeochemical cycles, 26 

deforestation and, 128, 131 
importance of, 133 

limits in ecosystems, 29 
magnification, 22, 155 
biomass as energy source, 110 
biosphere, 19, 25, 29 

agriculture and, 57, 58 
risks of, 64 




Boulding, Kenneth, 1 1 , 289 
Brave New World, 211 
breeder reactor dangers, 100 
British Meteorological Office on global 
warming, 141 

bromoxymil, toxicity of, 58 
Brown, Harrison, on modern society, 

Brown, Lester, 51 

Browns Ferry nuclear plant accident, 93 
buildings, saving energy in, 104 
Burke, Edmund, ideas of, 294, 306 
burning technologies, 87 

Calgene CEO research, 58 

rates, increases in, 153 
See also carcinogen 
capitalism, social costs of, 230 
carbon emissions, 89 
carbon dioxide 

deforestation and atmospheric, 129 
earth temperature and, 140. See abo 
global warming 

fuel burning and pollution by, 88 
government controls on, 144 
greenhouse effect of, 140 
sources of, 142, 143, 144 
carbon monoxide as air pollutant, 138 
carcinogens, 61, 149, 151 
carnivores as secondary consumers, 25 
cartels, resource, 268, 269 
catde pasture, deforestation and, 130 

earth temperature and, 140. See abo 
global warming 
as pollutants, 139, 140 

aspects of needed, 5, 281 
ecosystems and, 30 
chemical (s) 

industry, wastes from, 149, 150 
reuse of, 27 
war on insects, 23 
Chernobyl disaster, 9 1 , 93 
chloroflurocarbons. See CFCs 
city state, return to, 297, 303 
civilization, 3, 9, 294 
Clean Air Act of 1990, 140, 224, 250 

Clean Water Act, 85 

agriculture and, 39, 62 
changes, problems of, 89, 123 
deforestation and, 1 29 
energy and, 122 

breakers, humans as, 32 
cyclic, 34 

and pioneer ecosystems contrasted, 31 
variability of, 34 

Clinch River Breeder Reactor, 100 

Club of Rome, 41 


consumption, reducing, 89 
energy demands and, 86 
mining, problems of, 86 
See abo energy; fuel 
commodity. See resource 
Commoner, Barry, on toxic waste, 150 
common (s) 

freedom and, 195 
good, controls for the, 200, 204 
logic, pollution and, 194 
market destruction of, 218 
-pool resources, 193, 195 
problem, intemadonality of, 265 
See also social; society 
communalism in the steady state, 285 
community, ecology and concept of, 21 
compartmentalization, goal of, 35 
control, ecological and social, 204, 214 
constraints, macro-, 212 
conference diplomacy, 271 
ecology and, 295 
energy and, 83, 103, 108 
limits of, 79 

consumers, herbivore and carnivore, 25 
constraints and limits (compared), 14 

levels, significance of, 1 
time scale for controlled, 2 
control. See types of control 
coral reefs, species loss on, 132 
Corporate Fuel Economy Standards 
Act, 251 

cost(s). See under each type 
crop(s). See agriculture; food 




food and, 59 

steady-state changes in, 290 
curve, logistical growth, 42, 178 

biogeochemical, 26 
interrelationship of, 26 
life, 25 
nitrogen, 26 
water, 26 

Dahl, Robert, on competence, 209 
Daly, Herman, on common good, 218 
Davis Besse nuclear plant, 92 
decomposers in life cycle, 25 
deforestation, negative effects of tropi- 
cal, 50,128,129,131 
demand, resource scarcity and, 79 
Democracy iti America , 237 

elite rule us . , 209 
in steady-state society, 213 

momentum, significance of, 45 
transition, value of, 46 
deprivation and ecological scarcity, 240 
desalination, use of, 53 
design planning contrasted with, 288 
deuterium, abundance of, 100 
developing countries. See Third World 
development, sustainable, 2 
dietary quality as food limit, 59 
dioxin pollution, 152 
diplomacy, conference, 271 
discovery, limits to, 7 4 
diversity in the steady state, 291 
driftnets, dangers of, 194 
Dubos, Rene, on ecological ethic, 302 
durability, value of product, 81 

earth as finite planet, 2 
economic (s) 

development, happiness and, 301 
ecology and, 160 
ecosystem disturbance and, 29 
interests and internalization, 233, 270 
justice and ecological scarcity, 239 
life, steady-state, 287 

politics and, 22, 237, 238, 243 
scarcity, entropy and, 1 24 
social values and, 235 
See abo socioeconomic 
“Economic Man,” fallacy of, 235 

ecological scarcity and, 181 
hydrogen, 119 
multiplex, 120 
of nature, 20 
steady-state political, 206 
thermodynamic, 124 

abundance, society and, 190 

agricultural restraints, 62 

competence, 209 

competition, 62 

contract, the, 214 

crisis as emergency, 169, 283 

damage, war and, 272 

economics in the steady state, 287 

failure of political system, 252 

farming, 66 

history, 1 85 

illness, effects of, 22 

imperatives, 9 

limits, 60, 82,165 

philosophy, 293 

pollution control, 162 

problems, market solutions to, 222 

resources as commons, 195 

safety, costs of, 170 

scarcity, 175 

scarcity, administering, 247 
scarcity, class conflict and, 266 
scarcity, deprivation and, 240 
scarcity, economic justice and, 239 
scarcity, era of, 179 
scarcity, growth limits and, 178 
scarcity, internationalism of, 255 
scarcity in Japan, 257 
scarcity, living with, 240, 281 
scarcity, market failures and, 217 
scarcity, government, market, and, 228 
scarcity and political life, 11, 51, 216 
scarcity, producers and, 221 
scarcity, rise of, 1 0 
scarcity, significance of, 181 
scarcity, social control and, 241 



scarcity and socioeconomic justice, 241 
scarcity as political and moral crisis, 299 
scarcity. Third World and, 267 
succession, 30 

See also ecology, environment 

community concept and, 21 
as conservative science, 295 
defining, 6, 7 

economics and, 3, 7, 9, 160 
human, 6 
humans and, 20 
politics and, 8, 9 
science of, 19 

See also ecological; environmental 
adding to, 21 

agricultural revolution and, 32 
agriculture and tropical, 35 
changes, 19,21,23,27, 30,180 
compartmentalization goal of, 35 
compromise, 36 
disturbance, economics and, 29 
interdependent, 20, 26 
limits, 27, 29 
linear, 27 

oceans as special, 37 
preserving, 133 

pioneer and climax contrasted, 31 
pluralism in, 34 
production and, 33, 34 
simplification of, 32 
waste and, 27, 29 
education, environment and, 202 
efficiency improvement option, 39, 103 
electricity production and land use, 118 
elite rule, democracy and, 209 
Elton, Charles, 19 

carcinogenic nature of, 151 
motor vehicle, 138, 142 

agriculture and, 39 
climate and, 122 
conservation, 83, 108 
consumption patterns, 83 
demands, increases in, 82 
economy, multiplex 
efficiency, goal of, 2, 107, 108 

entropy, 79 

European problems of, 256 
food chains and, 38 
human need for, 82 
life and, 38 

loss as use consequence, 79 

nuclear, 89 

options, 101, 103 

production dangers, current, 82 

productivity and, 38, 56 

savings, 104, 105 

self-sufficiency, 120 

sources, 25, 110, 111, 112, 113, 115, 

1 17, 116, 119. See also names of 

supplies, ecological limits and, 82 
Third World problems of, 106 
See also coal; fuel 

economic scarcity and, 124 
energy, 79 

life and modification of, 30 
U.S. government and, 232 
See also ecology; environmental 

costs, concealment of, 229 
costs of fossil-fuel extraction, 84 
costs, handling, 224 
costs, internalization and, 226 
crisis, 6, 167 

good, education and, 202 
goods, pricing, 228 
impact of North Slope oil, 85 
management, politics of, 239. See also 

movement, anarchist nature of, 276 
neglect, results of, 153 
politics, European, 255, 257 
politics, Japanese, 258 
problems of oil drilling, 84 
problems of oil transportation, 84 
problems, Soviet bloc, 259 
radiation effects, 94 
ruin, self-interest and, 199 
See also ecology; ecological 
Environmental ProtectionAgency, haz- 
ardous waste sites and, 136, 138, 



equilibrium society, 15. See also steady- 
state society 

errors, technological, 171 
ethanol production, value of, 110 
Europe, environmental problems of 
Western, 255, 256, 257 
European Economic Community, toxic 
waste export and, 153 
eutrophication, 2B 
evolution, dynamics of, 21 
exploitation production and ecosystem, 

exponential growth, nature of, 68 
extinction of species, 36, 131, 132 
Exxon Valdez oisaster, 84, 173 

famine, threat of global, 48 

ecological, 66 
fish. See mariculture 
See also agriculture 
fertility rate, 46 

efficiency limits of, 57 
liabilities of, 61 
fire as intervention tool, 32 

farming. See mariculture 
pollution and, 145 
Flavin, Christopher, 97, 263 

availability, population and, 44 
chains, energetics of, 38 
culture and, 59 

distribution and population, 49 
limit, dietary quality as, 59 
production, biotechnology and, 57 
production, maximizing, 47 
safety, biotechnology and, 57 
variety, need for, 59 
yield, increasing optimally, 58 
See also agriculture; crop; farming 
forest(s). See defo restation ;rain forest; 

tropical forest 
fossil fuel 

avoidance costs for, 106 
extraction, environmental costs of, 

resources, 82, 83 

freedoms, micro-, 212 

burning, 87, 88 

extraction and water supply, 87 
resources, fossil, 82, 83 * 

See abo coal, energy, fossil fuel 
Fuller, Buckminster, on technology, 209 
fusion power, 98, 100 

gardening techniques, tropical, 37 
General Electric nuclear plants, 92 
General Public Utilities, 92 
genetic diversity, crop need for, 60 
geopolitics, changes in, 268 
geothermal power, 109, 110 

famine, threat of, 48 
warming, 53, 63, 123, 141 
Global Possible, The, 42 
Global 2000 Report to the President, 42 
Goddard Institute for Space Studies on 
global warming, 141 

anti-regulatory stance of, 248 
carbon dioxide emission controls, 

competence in steady state, 286 
controls for common good, 204 
ecological scarcity, market, and, 228 
mining subsidies from, 80 
planetary, 277 
scarcity management by, 9 
tropical deforestation by, 130 
See abo political; politics 
grain production in the Third World, 

greenhouse effect and carbon 
dioxide, 140 

Green Revolution, 48, 49, 60 
groundwater contamination, 95, 150 

carrying capacity and, 181 
curve, logistic, 178 
exponential, 66 
limits of, 41, 163, 178 
limits to technological, 174 
material, 2 

politics and economic, 237, 243 
policy, timing no-, 72 



vs. resources, 70 
social costs of, 175 
Third World policies and, 268 
Gulf of Mexico, drilling waste in, 84 

habitat loss and deforestation, 128, 129 
Haekel, Ernest, 19 
halo ns as air pollutants, 139 
happiness and economic development, 

Hardin, Garrett, theories of, 195, 205 
hazardous waste(s), 149 
control costs for, 1 53 
landfills, 150 
treaties, 276 

See also toxic waste; waste (s) 

costs of industrial growth, 225 
effects of toxic wastes, 152 
heat, climate and, 122 
heavy metal wastes, 149 
Hedrie, Joseph, 92 
herbivores as primary consumers, 25 

ecological, 1 85 
lessons of political, 297 
Hobbes, Thomas, political theories of, 
189,196, 200,204, 205 
holism in the steady state, 291 
home energy savings, 104 
homeostasis, 24, 27 
human (s) 

activities, problems caused by, 127 
agriculture, pest problems and, 25 
biosphere and, 29 
as climax breakers, 32 
ecology, principles of, 6, 20 
environment influenced by, 13 
intervention, ecosystems and, 21 
nature and, 12 
as stress source, 34 
waste, types of, 27 

pollution and, 134 
power over nature of, 164 
Hume, David, scarcity theories of, 9, 1 1 
hunger, food production and, 48 
Huxley, Aldous, 211 
hydrocarbons as air pollutants, 138 

hydrogen, power, value of, 1 19, 120, 122 
hydropower as energy source, 1 11, 1 12 

incrementalism in decision making, 244 
individual self-restraint, virtue of, 296 
individualism in modern fife, 191 

accidents, risks of, 152 
agriculture, technology and, 64 
civilization analyzed, 3, 182, 208, 294 
growth, costs of, 225 
See also technological; technology 
Industrial Revolution and scarcity, 10, 



hazardous waste production by, 150 
water pollution and, 146 
See also technological; technology 
integrated coal-gasification combined 
cycle system, 87 

interdependence in ecosystems, 20 
internalization, 226, 229, 233, 234. See 
also environmental management 

agreements, 215,216 
aspects of nature, 264 
disparities, 266 
politics, 26, 255 
reordering, effects of, 270 
International Conference for the Pre- 
vention of Pollution from Ships, 


irrigation, limits of, 50, 52 
insects, chemical war on, 23 

Japan, ecological problems of, 257 

Keynes, John Maynard, ideas of, 282, 300 
Kneese, Allen, ideas of, 226 
knowledge, limits to, 165 

lagoons, contaminated surface, 1 50 
laissez-faire politics, control of, 242 
“laissez-innover,” 226 

damage to mined, 86 
exploiting unused, 51 



supply, limits of, 50 
use for electricity production, 1 18 
landfills, hazardous waste, 150 
Lao Tzu on nature, 299 
Law of the Sea Convention, 194, 275 
lead pollution controls, 137 
leadership, need for, 306 
Leviathan , 196 
Lewis, C. S., on power, 210 
liberty, abundance and political, 191 

cycle in nature, 25 
energy and, 38 
lifeboat problem, 14 

agricultural, 60 

and constraints, interplay between, 

to discovery and substitution, 74 
ecological energy supply, 82 
of ecosystems, 27, 28 
to growth, 163, 165 
human, 13 

interrelationship of, 43 
to seawater mineral extraction, 77 
pollution control, 134 
to recycling and conservation, 79 
in the steady state, 43 
to technological growth, 174 
See abo specific types 
Limits to Growth, The, 41, 70, 163 
linear ecosystems, 27 
lithium scarcity, 100 

patterns, energy savings and, 105 
standards, changes in, 177, 240 
things and environment changes, 30 
Lloyd, William Forster, ideas of, 192 
Locke, John, ideas of, 191 , 202, 204 
logistic growth curve, 42, 68, 1 78 
London Dumping Conference, 275 
Los Angeles, commons problem in, 198 

macro-constraints, 212 
magnification, biological, 22, 155 
malnutrition, population size and, 48 
Malthus, Thomas, theory validity of, 1 1 
management, problems of, 166 
mariculture, promise of, 54 

Marsh, George Perkins, 15 
Marx, Karl, theories of, 10, 164 
Marx, Leo, 304 
growth, 10 
reusing, 81 

ecological problems and, 222 
ecological scarcity and, 228 
economy, distortions of, 220 
failures, ecological scarcity and, 217 
-orientation control, steady-state, 287 
price mechanism, 219, 220 
scarcity and, 219 
societal impact of, 218 
in the steady state, 219 
system, uncertainties in, 228 
McKean, Margaret, research of, 68, 193 
metal (s) 

abundant, 77 

mining, ecological costs of, 77, 78 
mining scarce, 78 

metanoia. See politics of transformation 
methane as air pollutant, 1 40 
micro-freedoms, 212 
military, nuclear waste and, 158. See also 

Mill, John Stuart, 94, 300 
mined land, damage to, 86 

extraction from thin ores, 77 
resources, 67, 73, 76, 81 
from seawater, limits to, 77 

effects of coal strip, 86 
government subsidies for, 80 
metals, processes for, 77 
mixed crops, value of, 65 
modem life, individualism in, 191 
modifying environment, life and, 30 
monoculture, liabilities of land, 60, 65 
Monsanto Corporation, 58 
moral crisis, ecological scarcity as, 299 
morality in the steady state, 292 
motor vehicles, pollution from, 138, 142, 
250. See also carbon dioxide; emis- 
sion; pollution 

multiplex energy economy, 120 
Mumford, Lewis, 302 



mutagen effect of radiation, 157 

National Academy of Sciences, 61,84, 

National Environmental Policy Act, 230 
National Research Council, 65, 154 
National Resources Defense Council, 

National Wildlife Federation, 56 
nationalism, regulation and, 275 
natural resources, decline in, 61 

anarchy in, 189 
economy of, 20 
homeostasis in, 24 
humans and, 164 
as international asset, 264 
life cycle in, 25 
sigmoid curve in, 68 
stress in, 34 
technology ar.d, 21 
waste absence in, 26 
See also biosphere; ecosystems 
no-growth policy, timing of, 72 
nonprofit vs. profit interests, 243 
north slope oil production effects, 85 
cycle, 26 

oxides as air pollutants, 148 

danger, misinformation about, 94 
emission control, 90 
energy, potential and peril of, 89 
industry, position of, 93 
plants, safety of, 91 , 96 
power, controversy over, 90 
reactors, 96, 99 
safety, 90, 93 

waste dangers, 90, 95, 96,97,158, 163 
See also radiation; radioactive 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 93, 

“Nucleonics Week” on nuclear safety, 99 
nutrition, population size and, 59 
See also crops; food 

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, radia- 
tion diseases at, 1 54 


energy as energy source, 115 
pollution, control of, 56 
special ecology of, 37 
thermal energy conversion, 115 
See also sea(s); water 
oflShore oil drilling, 84 

drilling, environmental effect of, 84 
north slope, 85 

shale, disadvantages as source of, 89 
spills, 84 

transportation problems, 84 
optimists, views of, 2 
ores, mineral extraction from thin, 77 
farming, 64 

hydrocarbons as air pollutants, 138 
Organization for Economic Coopera- 
tion and Development on Air Pol- 
lution, 137 

Our Common Future, 2, 42 
overexploitation, competitive, 193 
overpopulation, Green Revolution and, 


acid rain combined with, 139 

as air pollutant, 138 

layer destruction, seas and, 55 

Packard, Vance, 8 

paradigms, political, 4 

parks, waste-management, 162 

particulates as air pollutants, 138 

people, energy efficiency and, 107 

pessimists, views of, 2 

pest problems, human agriculture and, 25 


biological magnification of, 22, 155 
dangers of, 22, 58, 61, 149 
waste, 149 

industry, pollution from, 134 
products, toxic wastes and, 151 

ecological, 293, 304 
political, 12 
photosynthesis, 25, 58 
photovoltaics as energy source, 1 1 7 



physical limits of ecosystems, 28 
pioneer and climax ecosystems con- 
trasted, 31 

planetary government, prospects for, 277 

design differentiated from, 288 
problems of, 166, 167 

as energy source, 110 
genetics, use of, 57 
as producers, 25 
Plato, ideas of, 8, 12, 210, 295 
plutonium, dangers of, 95, 155 

action, common-goods and, 195, 196 
anomaly, ecological scarcity as, 5 
change, ecological scarcity and, 216 
choices, social-good, 196, 212 
competence in the steady state, 286 
dangers of supertechnology, 209 
economy, American, 217 
economy, steady-state, 206 
history, lessons of, 297 
inequality, 243 
liberty, abundance and, 191 
life, scarcity and, 11,51,216 
philosophy, 1 1 

reality, needed changes in, 282 
reform, mechanisms of, 5 
revolution, potential for, 240 
system, ecological failure of, 252 
theories, paradigms and, 4 
will, importance of, 205 
See also government; politics 

ecological scarcity and, 155, 181 
ecology and, 3, 8, 9 
economic basis of, 222, 238 
economic growth and, 237, 243 
of environmental management, 239 
European environmental, 257 
international, 265 
Japanese environmental, 258 
laissez-faire, 242 
movement to steady-state, 281 
need for new paradigm in, 217 
process and systems, 247 
of resources, 268 
of scarcity, 1 89 

and science, analogy between, 4 
social values and, 235 
of steady-state society, 287 
of Third World, growth and, 268 
See also government; political 
Politics, 190 
air, 136 

interaction of, 156 
responses to, 157 
See also pollution 

agricultural, 61 
air, 1 37 

commons logic of, 194 
control, ecological, 162 
control, limits of, 134 
control, nontechnological, 161 
control, technological, 135, 161 
control. United States, 136 
dioxin, 152 

from fuel burning, 87, 88 
inevitability of, 1 34 
land supply and, 51 
motor vehicle. See motor vehicle 
of oceans, 56 
optimal level of, 223 
petrochemical industry, 134 
production control and, 135 
radiation, 154 
treaties, air, 276 
water, 55, 145, 146, 148 
See abo pollutant(s); types 
polyclimax, 34 

control, need for, 44, 46, 289 
food and, 44, 47, 48, 49, 59 
growth of, 1, 44, 68 
growth, land supply and, 50 
post-modernity values, 292 

commodity, 269 
fusion, 98 

geothermal 109, 110 
Price- Anderson Act, reinsurance and, 93 
price, market response to, 220 
pricing environmental goods, 228 
process politics, 242 



ecological scarcity and, 221 
interests, strength of, 243 
internalization and, 234 
plants as, 25 

product durability, value of, 81 

control, pollution control and, 135 
ecosystem exploitation for, 34 
and protection, balancing, 37 

climate and agricultural, 39 
costs of increased, 56 
ecosystems and, 33 
energy and, 38 

profit vs. nonprofit interests, 243 
progress ideal, society and, 164 
Promise of the Coming Dark Age, The, 284 
protection and production, balancing, 37 
Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of 
Capitalism, The, 300 
prudence, need for, 296 
public-goods problem, 196 


environmental, 94 
long-term effects of, 90, 93, 1 56 
as mutagen, 1 57 
pollution, 154 

See also nuclear; radioactive; radioac- 

waste contamination, 97 
See also nuclear; radiation; radioac- 
tivity; radionuclides 

as environmental problem, 94 
long-term damage by, 90, 93, 156 

biological magnification of, 155 
persistence of, 157 
toxicity of, 1 54 

See also nuclear; radiation; radioactive; 


acid, 87, 138 

forests, destruction of, 35; See abo 
deforestation; tropical forests 
Rappaport, Ray, 32 
recycling, 79, 151 

reform. See change 
religion, value of, 305 
Republic, The. See Plato 
research, effectiveness of, 1 65 

cartels, 268, 269 
common-goods, 193, 195 
ecological competition for, 62 
decline in natural, 61 
exhaustion, controlling, 72 
fossil-fuel, 83 
frugal use of, 2 
growth vs. , 70 
mineral, 67 
as political tool, 268 
power, 269 
regulating, 195 

scarcity, demand reduction and, 79 
See also commodity 
reuse of materials, value of, 81 
revolution, potential for political, 240 
Rhone-Poulenc research, 58 
Rocky Mountain Institute, 103 
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, on commons, 

Roundup, carcinogenic nature of, 58 

safety, environmental, 90, 160, 170, 173 
Saint-Simon, Claude Henri, 207, 210 
salinization, land supply and, 50 

abolishing, 164 
challenges of, 217 
civilization characterized by, 9 
demand reduction and resource, 79 
ecological. See ecological scarcity 
entropy and economic, 124 
as future society factor, 1 1 
managing, 9, 10 
market and, 219 
modern, 10 
politics of, 1 89 
social control and, 241 
science and politics, analogy between, 4 
Scientific American on home energy, 104 
Schumacher, E. F., on Christianity, 305 

farming. See mariculture 
as food source, 54 



international agreements on the, 275 
ozone layer destruction and, 55 
See also ocean(s) 

Sears, Paul, ecology defined by, 7 

energy from, 116 
mineral extraction limits from, 77 
self-restraint, individual, 296 
sewage, water pollution and, 147 
sigmoid curve. See logistic curve 
Smith, Adam, theories of, 191, 218, 300 
smog, fuel burning and, 87 

changes, ecological plenty and, 190 
control, scarcity and, 241 
control of technology, 177 
costs of capitalism, 230 
costs of growth, 175, 225 
critics, values of, 293 
design, limits affected by, 14 
good, political choices for, 212 
life, ecological scarcity and, 181 
planning, problems of, 167 
price of technology, 211 
costs, technology assessment and, 226 
values, economics, politics and, 235 
See also commons; society 
Social Contract, The , 199, 214 

instability of industrial, 208 
market and destruction of, 218 
political, 4 

progress ideal of, 164 
scarcity as future factor in, 1 1 
steady-state, 12, 15, 212, 213 
See also commons; social 

justice vs. ecological scarcity, 241 
See also economic 
soil erosion, land supply and, 50 

hydrogen as energy source, 119 
power as energy source, 112 
thermal power as energy source, 115 
Southern California Air Quality 
Management District, 198 
Soviet bloc environmental problems, 

“Spaceman economy,” 1 1 

spaceship problem, 14 
specialization in modern life, 7 
species extinction, 132. See also coral 
reef; deforestation 

spiritual crisis and ecological scarcity, 

standard of living and alternative tech- 
nology, 177 

State of the World , The , 42 
stationary-state society, 15. Sec also 
steady-state society 
Stavrianos, L. S., on transition, 284 
steady-state society 

characteristics of, 212, 285 
democracy in, 213 
goal of, 2, 212 
frugal nature of, 302 
movement to, 15, 183, 281 
political economy of, 206 
transition time to, 283 
Steven Pavich and Sons, work of, 66 
Stockholm Conference, 272 

on growth, 41 
natural, 34 
society and, 4 
humans as source of, 34 
strip mining, effects of coal, 86 
subclimaxes, “good” anthropogenic, 36 
substitution, limits to, 74 
sulfur oxides as air pollutants, 137 
sunlight as energy source, 25 
Superfund Law, 169 
Superior Farming Company, 66 
supertankers, dangers of, 173 
Supreme Court, anti-environment ac- 
tions of, 231, 232 
Surry Nuclear plant, 94 
Surface Mining Control and Reclama- 
tion Act of 1977, 86 
sustainable society, 15. See also steady- 
state society 
systems politics, 242 

tar sand deposits as fuel source, 89 

accidents and errors, 171 
growth, limits to, 174 
optimum, appeal of, 206 



pollution control, 135 
See also industry; technology 
alternative, 176 

assessment, social costs and, 226 
industrial agriculture and, 64 
limits of, 165 
management of, 163 
nature and, 211 
political dangers of super, 209 
pollution control and, 160, 161 
social control of, 177 
social price of, 211 
of waste control, 154 
See also industry; technological 
temperature, earth, 1 40. See also global 

Third World countries 
differences among, 264 
ecological farming in, 66 
ecological scarcity in, 264, 267 
energy problems of, 106 
fossil-fuel use in, 83 
politics, growth and, 268 
population growth in, 46 
Thoreau, Henry David, on nature, 299 
Three Mile Island disaster, 91, 93 
thermal storage, types of, 119 
thermodynamic economy, 124 
thermonuclear fusion. See fusion 
timber harvests, deforestation and, 130 
time response to ecological scarcity, 2, 

de Tocqueville, Alexis, on America, 237 

Toney Canyon disaster, 173 


emissions as carcinogens, 151 
substances, safe levels of, 160 
wastes, clean-up costs for, 150 
wastes, health effects of, 152 
wastes, nuclear, 158 
See also hazardous wastes 
Trans- Alaska Pipeline, 84, 85, 233 
transformation, politics of, 305 
transportation, energy savings in, 105 
transmutation of nuclear wastes, 163 

state, current, 179 
time to steady state, 283 

value of, 46 

treaties, international environmental, 276 

tritium, dangers of, 100 


agroforestry, 132 
deforestation, 128, 130. See also 

ecosystems, agriculture and, 35 
forests, destruction of, 36 
forests, resources of, 129 
gardening techniques, 37 

Union of Concerned Scientists, 92 
United Nations 

Conference on the Human Environ- 
ment. See Stockholm Conference 
Environmental Programme, 59, 273 
Food & Agriculture Organization, 

47, 128 

Population Fund, 45 
World Commission on Environment 
and Development, 2, 42, 166 
World Health Organization on pes- 
ticides, 149 

World Population Conference, 274 
United States 

carbon dioxide emission in, 143, 144 
Council for Energy Awareness, 154 
Department of Agriculture and 
biotechnology, 58 
Department of Energy, policies of, 

96, 97 

Forest Service and biotechnology, 58 
government, anti-environment ac- 
tions of, 232, 248 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 


pollution control, 136 
uranium supply, 90 

utilities, fuel-burning pollution and, 88 

values, search for, 298 

Veblen, Thorstein, on mediocrity, 306 

Vitonsek, Peter, on ecosystems, 180 

Walden, on nature, 299 
war, ecological damage by, 272 
waste (s) 



-absorption capacity of earth, invalid 
concept of, 1 36 
avoidance, 81 

control costs for hazardous, 153 
control, technology of, 154 
ecosystem absorption of, 27 
ecosystem destruction by, 29 
hazardous, 149 
human, 27 

long-term dangers of, 96 
nuclear, 90,95, 158 
-management parks, 1 62 
nature and absence of, 26 
See also toxic; hazardous; types of wastes 
cycle, 26 

pollution, 145, 146, 148 
supply, damaging, 55 
supply limits, 50, 52, 53 

supply depletion and fuel extraction, 87 
See also ocean(s); sea(s) 
waterlogging, land supply and, 50 
wave power as energy source, 116 
wealth, growth of, 41 
Weber, Max, predictions of, 300 
Wealth of Nations, The , 191 
weather as agricultural restraint, 62 
Weinberg, Alvin, on technology, 207 
White, Lynn, on ecological ethics, 304 
wind power as energy source, 1 13, 1 14 
World Resources Institute, 42 
Worldwatch Institute, 43 

Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, 97 

Zuckerman, Lord, 163 

zoning, value of comprehensive, 37 

Biographical Sketches 

William Ophuls graduated from Princeton University in 1955 with an 
A.B. in oriental studies, then served for four years as an officer in the U.S. 
Coast Guard. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1959 and spent the next 
eight years at the Department of State and at U.S. Embassies in the Ivory 
Cast and Japan. In 1973, he received a Ph.D. in political science from Yale. He 
taught at Northwestern and Oberlin and has lectured and consulted widely. 
When Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity was first published in 1977, it was 
recognized as a pioneering work, winning the Sprout Prize from the 
International Studies Association for the best book on ecology and interna- 
tional politics and the Kammerer Award from the American Political Science 
Association for the best book on U.S. domestic politics. Dr. Ophuls is at 
work on a sequel to Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity. His new work focuses 
on the internal contradictions of modern politics. 

A. Stephen Boyan, Jr., received an A.B. from Brown University in 
1959 and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1966, both in 
political science. He taught at Pennsylvania State University for four years 
and since 1971 has been a member of the faculty of the University of 
Maryland Baltimore County. His special interests are environmental 
ethics and constitutional law. He is editor of the six-volume work, 
Constitutional Aspects of Watergate. He is a Leader in the Ethical Culture 
Movement and was organizer of the Earth Ethics project at the 
Washington Ethical Society. 

Thomas E. Lovejoy received his B.S. and biology from Yale 
University. From 1973 to 1987, he directed the program of the World 
Wildlife Fund-U.S. He is generally credited with having brought the 
problems of tropical forests to the fore as a public issue. He founded the 
public television series “Nature.” He is president of the Society for 
Conservation Biology and chairman of the U.S. Man and Biosphere 
Program. Since 1987, he has been Assistant Secretary for External Affairs 
of the Smithsonian Institution. 



. -f-Ji * 


The Unraveling of the American Dream 

William Ophuls • A. Stephen Boyan, Jr. 

At a time when the limits of our environmental tolerance are more apparent than ever, 

Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited emerges as a startling exploration of political and 
social contradictions that must be overcome if we are to survive. In this ecological critique 
of American political institutions, William Ophuls and A. Stephen Boyan, Jr. argue that 
forestalling ecological bankruptcy will require more than quick fix solutions — it will require 
a radical overhaul of our nation's priorities and policies. 

Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited defines the nature of the ecological crisis, and 
measures its political, social and economic implications. First published in 1977 and now 
completely updated by co-author Boyan, the book's argument is supported with the latest 
information on overpopulation, food shortages, pollution, and shrinking energy resources. 

Also incorporated into the work are recent environmental developments such as the decline of 
nuclear power, the destruction of the rain forests, global warming, acid rain, and broad 
demographic changes. 

Written for anyone involved in or concerned by American economic and ecological 
policies, Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited is blunt, objective, provocative, uncompro- 
mising, and at times unnerving. But not without hope. Both authors are convinced we can 
adapt to ecological scarcity and preser\%what is worth preserving of our political and 
cultural order. But as this volume so dramatically demonstrates, we must not delay. 

"Rereading Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity fourteen years after its initial publication brings a 
sad awareness. . . .Very little has changed in humankind's relationship to its natural milieu. 
Nature is still seen either as a mine or a dump and treated accordingly,- and the basic laws of 
ecology are ignored, denied, and flouted. Humanity therefore continues to hasten down 
the path to ecological perdition." 

— William Ophuls, from the Author's Afterword to Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited 

About the Authors 

William Ophuls is a former United States Foreign Service Officer. His 1977 volume Ecology 
and the Politics of Scarcity was published to widespread critical and popular acclaim, winning 
the Gladys M. Kammerer Award as the year's best book on public policy, and a similar 
prize from the International Studies Association. 

A. Stephen Boyan, Jr. is a political scientist on the facult x ' ~ f ' 4 ^ ^ An - 1 


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